NASA has been working towards launching its next orbital telescope called the James Webb Space Telescope. Researchers at the agency will use the Webb telescope to study an interesting young planetary system called Beta Pictoris. The planetary system has at least two planets and a mass of smaller, rocky bodies, and a dusty disc.
NASA hopes to learn more about the structure and properties of the dust to better understand what’s happening inside the system. Beta Pictoris is only about 63 light-years away and has significant amounts of dust along with bright emissions in infrared. There is lots of data that the new telescope can gather on the system.
Beta Pictoris is the target of several planned observation programs for the new telescope. One will block the light of the star to gather new details about dust in the system. Another program will gather spectra, spreading light out like a rainbow to reveal elements present in the system. The system has been studied regularly using radio, infrared, and visible light since the 1980s.
The system’s central star is twice as massive as the sun, hotter, and significantly younger. The sun is about 4.6 billion years old, while Beta Pictoris is only about 20 million years old. The star is stable and has at least two planets, and both are far more massive than Jupiter. One interesting aspect of the system is that it was the location for the discovery of the first exocomets.
The system has a debris disk that includes comets, asteroids, rock, and lots of dust. NASA says the debris disk around Beta Pictoris is much younger and could be more massive than the Kuiper Belt in our solar system. The system is also very active, with lots of collisions in its disk creating more and more dust. Imagery from Webb will allow researchers to study how debris interacts with planets, among other things.