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HubbleSite Elusive Planet Reshapes a Ring Around Neighboring Star


Space Telescope Science

The top view, taken by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope is the most detailed visible-light image ever taken of a narrow, dusty ring around the nearby star Fomalhaut (HD 216956). The image offers the strongest evidence yet that an unruly and unseen planet may be gravitationally tugging on the ring. The left part of the ring is outside the telescope's view. Hubble unequivocally shows that the center of the ring is a whopping 1.4 billion miles (15 astronomical units) away from the star. This is a distance equal to nearly halfway across our solar system. The geometrically striking ring, tilted obliquely toward Earth, would not have such a great offset if it were simply being influenced by Fomalhaut's gravity alone.

The view at bottom points out important features in the image, such as the ring's inner and outer edges. Astronomers used the Advanced Camera for Surveys' (ACS) coronagraph aboard Hubble to block out the light from the bright star so they could see the faint ring. The dot near the ring's center marks the star's location. Despite the coronagraph, some light from the star is still visible in this image, as can be seen in the wagon wheel-like spokes that form an inner ring around Fomalhaut.

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