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Beta Pictoris

Beta Pictoris is one of the more famous of all star systems. It’s also one of the most complex. It includes a young star, at least two giant planets, lots of gas and dust, and a “cat’s tail” that might be the result of a giant impact.

The star is almost 65 light-years away. It’s about twice as big and heavy as the Sun, and almost 10 times as bright.

In 1983, an infrared space telescope discovered a disk of gas and dust around Beta Pic. It spans hundreds of billions of miles, and contains several wide belts. The belts may consist of debris left over from the collisions of comets and asteroids.

Gaps between the belts contain two known planets. Both of them are more than 10 times the mass of Jupiter, the giant of our own solar system. One of them orbits the star once every three and a third years; the other, once every 24 years.

A smaller second disk also encircles Beta Pic. Last year, Webb Space Telescope discovered a “cat’s tail” of debris curling away from it. It might have formed about a century ago, when a collision between giant chunks of rock and ice shattered the bodies, splashing debris up and away from the disk.

Beta Pictoris is still an infant — it’s only about 25 million years old. So the building blocks around it could still be coming together to make more planets, while others could be destroyed in more big collisions — adding to the complexity of this well-known star system.

Script by Damond Benningfield

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