From exoplanet to a cloud of space dust: Fomalhaut b disappears and puzzles scientists

From exoplanet to a cloud of space dust: Fomalhaut b disappears and puzzles scientists

In 2004, a group of astronomers from the University of California made an undiscovered discovery. For the first time, NASA's Hubble telescope was able to detect an exoplanet 25 light-years from Earth through visible light waves. With a size three times that of Jpiter, Fomalhaut b left astronomers puzzled for several years. However, when analyzing images captured by Hubble between 2013 and 2014, scientists noticed that the exoplanet had disappeared completely.

In a recently published article in the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, scientists at the University of California reveal that, after all, Fomalhaut b may not even have been an exoplanet, but rather the remnants of a rare collision between two giant asteroids that are it happens once every 200,000 years.

Simulation of the evolution of Fomalhaut b over time credits: NASA

Astronomers indicate that Fomalhaut b has proved enigmatic since its discovery and that several theories have been developed about its true identity. When the original article was published, scientists advanced that the exoplanet could be a formation of dust or space debris.

After analyzing the most recent images captured by Hubble, astronomers developed a theoretical computer model that could explain the strange identity of Fomalhaut b. The theorized collision between the two asteroids corresponds to the observed characteristics and may explain the fact that the Hubble telescope detected what looked like a large exoplanet.

The cloud of foot space debris formerly known as Fomalhaut b is now too difficult to observe through Hubble, as scientists estimate that it has a larger dimension orbiting the Earth around the Sun. However, NASA advances the team responsible for the discovery will continue to analyze the Fomalhaut system with the new James Webb space telescope.