Astronomers discover a rare stellar disk of quartz dust

May 5, 2012
(Left) Infrared image of HD 15407A obtained by the observations of AKARI (Field of View: 0.15 degree x 0.15 degree). (Right) Infrared spectrum of HD 15407A obtained by the observations from Spitzer. Two bumps seen around 9 and 21 microns indicate the presence of micron-sized quartz dust. (Credit: Univ. of Tokyo and NAOJ.)

A research team of Japanese astronomers led by Dr. Hideaki Fujiwara (Subaru Telescope) has discovered a main-sequence star that is surrounded by a rare disk of quartz dust. Collisions of planetesimals, building blocks for planets, may have produced the dusty quartz ring during planet formation around the star. Based on observations with the AKARI and Spitzer infrared space telescopes, this recently discovered, intriguing feature of a stellar system may open new doors for research on the mineralogical nature of extrasolar planetary systems.

Since the 1995 discovery of the first extrasolar planet, 51 Pegasi b, about 700 planets orbiting around stars other than our Sun have been discovered so far. Understanding the origins and evolution of has become one of the hottest and the most fundamental themes in modern astronomy. The team of scientists led by Dr. Fujiwara conducted research exploring this new frontier and concentrated their efforts on finding debris disks that could indicate .

Figure 2: Illustration of the HD 15407A System Based on Observations from AKARI and Spitzer, showing the dusty quartz disk orbiting the star. (Credit: Univ. of Tokyo and NAOJ.)

According to a widely accepted recent scenario of planet formation, like the Earth begin as an aggregation of cosmic dust and then continued their development as an accumulation of planetesimals, rocky planetary building blocks, around young stars. A substantial amount of dust would be generated from the collisions of planetesimals around main-sequence stars in the later phase of the planet formation process. Light absorbed from the central star would heat the grains of debris dust and re-emit its energy in infrared wavelengths. In light of this information, the team decided to focus their initial research on finding stars that have disks around them. They used the brand-new infrared map of the entire sky based on observations with AKARI, the Japanese infrared satellite to conduct their search.

The team discovered that the sun-like star HD 15407A, located in the 180 light years away from Earth, emits very bright infrared light relative to its visible light. Since HD 15407A is a main-sequence star, active collisions of planetesimals around it could produce a large amount of dust and emit infrared light.

The team conducted follow-up observations of the star using Spitzer, the infrared space telescope operated by Caltech and NASA. Spitzer's high sensitivity and sharp spatial resolution in the infrared allowed the researchers to identify the amount and mineralogical nature of the debris dust. Their examination of the Spitzer spectrum of HD 15407A revealed that at least 100 trillion tons of tiny particles of quartz dust orbit the star. They also found that the dust is located about 1 AU (astronomical unit) from the central star in the so-called "terrestrial planet region." This is the first study that not only reveals the presence of a quartz disk of dust around a sun-like main-sequence star but also precisely determines its amount and spatial distribution.

Quartz dust seems to be a rather rare kind of dust in the Universe, and it is not yet clear how the quartz dust observed around HD 15407A formed. Since the Earth's crust contains a large amount of quartz-like minerals, this suggests that the quartz dust around HD 15407A might come from the surface layers of large rocky bodies colliding with other planetesimals orbiting the star. Team leader Fujiwara commented, "We have used two infrared space telescopes to discover a precious star with a rare disk of quartz dust that may contribute to revealing the secrets of planetary materials. We would like to examine this star more thoroughly by combining theory with laboratory studies to further our understanding of the planet formation process."

Explore further: Subaru's sharp eye confirms signs of unseen planets in the dust ring of HR 4796 A

More information: Fujiwara et al. 2012, "Silica-Rich Bright Debris Disk around HD 15407A", The Astrophysical Journal Letters, 749, L29 (2012).

Related Stories

Hubble Reveals Two Dust Disks Around Nearby Star

June 27, 2006

NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has revealed two dust disks circling the nearby star Beta Pictoris. The images confirm a decade of scientific speculation that a warp in the young star's dust disk may actually be a second inclined ...

Planets Living on the Edge

December 17, 2008

( -- Some stars have it tough when it comes to raising planets. A new image from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows one unlucky lot of stars, born into a dangerous neighborhood. The stars themselves are safe, ...

Making a spectacle of star formation in Orion

June 30, 2011

( -- Looking like a pair of eyeglasses only a rock star would wear, this nebula brings into focus a murky region of star formation. NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope exposes the depths of this dusty nebula with its ...

Recommended for you

NASA engineers dream big with small spacecraft

April 20, 2018

Many of NASA's most iconic spacecraft towered over the engineers who built them: think Voyagers 1 and 2, Cassini or Galileo—all large machines that could measure up to a school bus.

Unveiling the secrets of the Milky Way galaxy

April 20, 2018

A multinational team of astronomers involving the University of Adelaide has catalogued over 70 sources of very high energy gamma rays, including 16 previously undiscovered ones, in a survey of the Milky Way using gamma ray ...

Where is the universe's missing matter?

April 19, 2018

Astronomers using ESA's XMM-Newton space observatory have probed the gas-filled haloes around galaxies in a quest to find 'missing' matter thought to reside there, but have come up empty-handed – so where is it?


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

1.3 / 5 (12) May 06, 2012
We would like to examine this star more thoroughly by combining theory with laboratory studies to further our understanding of the planet formation process.
I certainly hope they get to some real understanding of so-called planetary formation. Currently the nebular theory is exactly that:nebulous. There is no laboratory confirmation that planets form from "an aggregation of cosmic dust and then continued their development as an accumulation of planetesimals, rocky planetary building blocks, around young stars". People have tried to simulate such events and have met with abject failure. So they're have had to resort to computer simulations with highly questionable assumptions to somehow "show" that it is possible. All observations thus far show the opposite: solild rocky objects in space collide and turn into dust-not the other way around.
If you disagree, please provide observational evidence for the contrary.
4.6 / 5 (11) May 06, 2012
I could write about experiments on board the ISS involving accretion in zero gravity of a whole variety of fine-grained materials, I could write about a whole array of planetary bodies made of rubble hold together by mere gravitational force, I could present dozens of examples but why should I bother dealing with a brick-head? XD Elementary (astro)physics is waaay to complicated for you so begone troll, back to your cave!
1 / 5 (3) May 06, 2012
Plasma Process - materials- disk of Quartz dust
see Plasma vision of the Universe [1993] and Plasma Regulated Electromagnetic Universe-1995-vidyardhicosmology [dot]blogspot [dot]in/2011/10/light-flow-interaction-plasma-vision [dot]html
not rated yet May 07, 2012
Quartz is a mineral formed in hydrothermal deposits in fault zones. silica (silcon dioxide) is the product of oxidizing silicon, the point is quartz just is not the right term to use because I doubt this dust was formed by hot high pressure water.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.