Imagine if the rings of Saturn suddenly disappeared. Astronomers have witnessed the equivalent around a young sun-like star called TYC 8241 2652. Enormous amounts of dust known to circle the star are unexpectedly nowhere to be found.
“Nothing like this has ever been seen in the many hundreds of stars that astronomers have studied for dust rings,” said Ben Zuckerman of the University of California, Los Angeles, a co-author of the new study appearing in the latest issue of the journal Nature. “This disappearance is remarkably fast even on a human time scale, much less an astronomical scale.”
A dusty disk around TYC 8241 2652 was first seen by the NASA Infrared Astronomical Satellite (IRAS) in 1983. It continued to glow brightly for 25 years. Like Earth, warm dust absorbs the energy of visible starlight and reradiates that energy as infrared, or heat, radiation. Shown above is an artist’s conception of a dusty planet-forming disk similar to the one that vanished around TYC 8241 2652.
The first strong indication of the disk’s disappearance came from images taken in January 2010 by NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE. An infrared image obtained at the Gemini telescope in Chile on May 1, 2012, confirmed that the dust has been gone for two-and-a-half years.
The result is based upon multiple sets of observations of TYC 8241 2652 obtained by the Gemini South telescope in Chile; IRAS; WISE; NASA’s Infrared Telescope on Mauna Kea in Hawaii; the European Space Agency’s Herschel Space Telescope; and the Japanese/European Space Agency AKARI infrared satellite.
For more on the disappearing dust, see the NASA press release.