ALMA saw a debris disk in the shape of an ellipse

Using the ALMA radio telescope complex, astronomers obtained an image of the residual disk surrounding the star HD 53143. The pictures surprised the researchers. It turned out that the disk around HD 53143 has the most complex and eccentric shape among all known objects of this type.

What is a debris disk

HD 53143 is a sun-like star located 60 light-years from Earth in the Carina constellation. Its age is estimated at about 1 billion years. The luminary is still surrounded by a residual disk. It consists of the debris left after the formation of the system. In its movement, they regularly collide with each other, which leads to the formation of even smaller debris and dust. In fact, the debris disk can be compared with a historical record. By studying it, astronomers can look into the past of the system and determine exactly how its formation took place. 

The HD 53143 system in the artist’s image. Source: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO); M. Weiss (NRAO/AUI/NSF)

Abnormal debris disk

A team of American astronomers decided to get detailed images of the disk around HD 53143. To do this, they used ALMA: a complex of 66 antennas located on a high plateau in the Chilean Atacama Desert.

The ALMA image of the debris disk around the star HD 53143. Source: LMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), M. MacGregor (U. Colorado Boulder), S. Dagnello (NRAO/AUI/NSF)
Image of the debris disk around the star HD 53143. The orange color corresponds to the ALMA radio telescope data, the blue color corresponds to the Hubble telescope data. Source: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), M. MacGregor (U. Colorado Boulder), S. Dagnello (NRAO/AUI/NSF)

The researchers assumed that the disk around HD 53143 has a classic ring shape and resembles a Kuiper belt. But the ALMA images came as a surprise. Instead of a “ring” with a star in the middle, it turned out that the debris disk has a much more complex and eccentric shape. It can be compared to an ellipse, while HD 53143 is located in one of its foci.

According to scientists, they had never seen debris disks with a similar structure before. Moreover, during the observations, they were able to detect signs indicating that the star has another inner disk, which is displaced or tilted relative to the outer disk. To create this structure, there must be some other undiscovered object in the system (at least one large exoplanet), whose gravity compensates for the material of the disks. The researchers hope that follow-up observations will help test this assumption.

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