Debris Disks

"For all their efforts, astronomers have found fewer than a dozen debris disks. That's why planet hunters are eagerly awaiting the launch of NASA's Space Infrared Telescope Facility (Spitzer). Although the mirror of this orbiting telescope is too small to image debris disks, it will have 10 times the sensitivity of IRAS to excess infrared radiation, an indication of debris disks.

The observatory is expected to generate a catalog of hundreds of stars, some of them no brighter than the sun, likely to have debris disks. In just a few years, as astronomers train their high-resolution telescopes on these disk-enshrouded stars, they may discover dozens of dusty trails left by planets." (Spitzer web pages)

Vega's Disk

From the work of David Wilner, Matt Holman and Marc Kuchner, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

Movie available at

This image from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope shows for the first time the inner region of a 200-billion mile diameter dust disk around the star Beta Pictoris. This region has long been hidden from ground-based telescopes because of the glare from the central star. The disk is slightly warped. If the warp were there when the star formed, it would long since have flattened out, unless it is produced and maintained by the gravitational pull of a planet. The suspected planet would dwell inside a five-billion mile diameter clear zone inside the inner edge of the disk.

HD 141569 and HR 4796A as seen with the Hubble Space Telescope

NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has given astronomers their first views of a dust ring around the star HR 4796A and a dark gap dividing an immense dust disk around the star HD 141569. These images may provide important clues to possible planet formation.

Image Credit


Alycia Weinberger, Eric Becklin (UCLA), Glenn Schneider (University of Arizona) and NASA


Brad Smith (University of Hawaii), Glenn Schneider (University of Arizona), and NASA