For the first time, the ALMA radio telescope (Atacama Large Millimeter / submillimeter array) in Chile was able to fully record the debris and gas ring around the young star Fomalhaut. The celestial body is about 25 light-years from Earth. As astronomers suspect, the ring consists of the icy remains of collided comets. "Finally, we can see the clearly defined shape of the disk, which could possibly tell us a lot about the planetary system behind it, which has created this look, " explains Meredith MacGregor of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, USA.
The debris and gas in the ring absorbs the light from the central star of the planetary system. Therefore, it appears in the recording of the radio telescope as a glowing hoop. From ALMA data, researchers also found large amounts of carbon monoxide in the ring. "These data allow us to conclude that the relative abundance of carbon monoxide plus carbon dioxide around Fomalhaut is about what one finds in comets in our own solar system, " says Luca Matrà of the University of Cambridge. "This chemical affinity may indicate a similarity in the origin of comets - between the fringes of this planetary system and ours." As Matrà and his colleagues also assume, the 25-light-years distant planetary system is in a phase of about four billion Years ago, Earth and its neighbors have been bombarded by asteroids and comets.
Photo: ALMA (ESO / NAOJ / NRAO), M. MacGregor; NASA / ESA Hubble, P. Kalas; Saxton (NRAO / AUI / NSF)© science.de Display