A spectacular, luminous ring offers the best evidence yet that a nearby star is circled by a newly formed solar system. Check out this amazing photo.
The ring is composed of dust particles in orbit around Fomalhaut, a bright star located just 25 light years away in the constellation Pisces Austalis – or the Southern Fish. A recent image captured with the Hubble Space Telescope – which makes the system look uncannily like the Great Eye of Sauron from the blockbusting Lord of the Rings trilogy – confirms that Fomalhaut’s ring is curiously offset with respect to the star.
The most likely explanation is that the gravity of one or more unseen planets is dragging the ring askew. The fact that the inner edge of the ring is relatively well-defined adds further weight to the argument because it suggests the unseen planets are sweeping up stray dust within the radius of the ring.
The image was captured by astronomers at the University of California, Berkeley, US, and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center using Hubble’s coronagraph. This device blocks the glare of a star while gathering the faint reflected light from any surrounding ring.
The new image is the first time Fomalhaut’s ring has been seen in visible light. This offers a much sharper view than the infrared wavelengths previously used by astronomers. “We are directly imaging the system,” says team member Paul Kalas. “The offset is unambiguous and it’s been measured with very high accuracy.”