Space Telescope Science
Over a decade before planets were found orbiting normal stars, the astronomy world was intrigued by the discovery of a vast, edge-on, pancake-flat disk of dust and gas encircling the newborn star Beta Pictoris. It appeared to validate the hypothesis by the German philosopher Immanuel Kant, 230 years ago, that our solar system was born when planets condensed from nebular material in the plane of such a disk. (This model was independently proposed by French scholar Pierre-Simon Laplace in 1796.) Kant regarded the coplanar obits of the planets a fossil skeleton of the long-ago disintegrated disk. Though nearly two dozen circumstellar debris disks have been viewed by the Hubble Space Telescope to date, Beta Pictoris is the first and best example of what a forming young planetary system looks like. That's because it can be seen edge on, and it is the only disk to date where a planet has also been imaged. Hubble has been used to intensively study the disk for the past two decades and this latest picture – when compared to previous observations – shows that the disk particles appear to smoothly revolve around the star like a majestic carousel. Ground-based telescopes found a Jupiter-sized world embedded in the disk in 2009, and future observations may yield more planetary objects.
To learn more about Hubble and Beta Pictoris, join the live Hubble Hangout event at 3:00 pm (EST) on Thursday, February 19. Visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EuaQEOTqm0c .