Comets caught zooming around nearby star

comets around Beta Pictoris

Comets race around the young star Beta Pictoris, which is surrounded by a dusty planet-forming disk (orange) in this artist’s illustration.

L. Calçada/ESO

Guest post by Christopher Crockett

Move over exoplanets. Astronomers can now track individual comets around other stars. Observations of calcium clouds expelled from 493 exocomets, reported in the Oct. 23 Nature, reveal two comet families orbiting Beta Pictoris, a young star 63 light-years away in the constellation Pictor.

A massive planet appears to tug on one group of comets whereas the other group most likely comes from the recent disintegration of a larger body, an echo of some comet families that orbit the sun.

At just 28 million years old, Beta Pictoris offers astronomers a glimpse at our own solar system’s chaotic past over 4 billion years ago. 

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