TESS telescope detected over 30 exocomets near a nearby star

Analysis of the data collected by the TESS space telescope allows astronomers to detect at least thirty exocomets in the system of the young star β Pictoris. This is stated in an article published in a recent issue of the journal Nature.

The Star System of β Pictoris

The star β Pictoris is located at a distance of 63 light years from Earth. The star is very young (its age is estimated at 20-25 million years) and is still surrounded by a fragmentary disk consisting of matter left after its formation.

Photo of Beta Pictoris taken by ESO telescopes. In the image, we can see the shard disk surrounding the star and the exoplanet orbiting it. Source: ESO/A.-M. Lagrange et al

Due to the combination of a relatively short distance and a good location in relation to the Earth of the fragmentation disk, the β Pic has long been a very popular object for observations. In fact, it plays the role of a “space laboratory” that allows astronomers to study young star systems in real time. Over the years of observations, they managed to find two exoplanets and several dust belts in the β Pic. Now the list of finds has been replenished with at least three dozen exocomets.

Detection of exocomets in β  Pictoris

As we know, comets have very small sizes in their bulk, which makes it impossible to observe them directly from even the luminaries closest to us. However, when passing against the background of the luminaries, their tails can cause a decrease in starlight. This fall can be recorded by telescopes engaged in the search for exoplanets by the transit method.

The Beta Pictoris in the artist’s image. Source: ESO L. Calçada/N. Risinger (skysurvey.org)

Back in 2019, the TESS telescope discovered three exocomets at the β Pictoris. Subsequently, it repeatedly returned to this system, conducting additional observations. An international team of astronomers studied the archive of data collected by TESS and managed to identify fluctuations in the brightness of the star caused by transits of at least thirty exocomets.

Subsequent analysis also allowed scientists to estimate the size of the exocomet’s nuclei. They range from 3 to 14 km, which is very important in our Solar System. This suggests that comets in both systems formed according to a single scenario as a result of collisions and disintegration of larger icy bodies. According to astronomers, the same should be true for planets.

According to https://www.nature.com

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