A Circumstellar Disk Around β Pictoris

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Science  21 Dec 1984:
Vol. 226, Issue 4681, pp. 1421-1424
DOI: 10.1126/science.226.4681.1421


A circumstellar disk has been observed optically around the fourth-magnitude star β Pictoris. First detected in the infrared by the Infrared Astronomy Satellite last year, the disk is seen to extend to more than 400 astronomical units from the star, or more than twice the distance measured in the infrared by the Infrared Astronomy Satellite. The β Pictoris disk is presented to Earth almost edgeon and is composed of solid particles in nearly coplanar orbits. The observed change in surface brightness with distance from the star implies that the mass density of the disk falls off with approximately the third power of the radius. Because the circumstellar material is in the form of a highly flattened disk rather than a spherical shell, it is presumed to be associated with planet formation. It seems likely that the system is relatively young and that planet formation either is occurring now around β Pictoris or has recently been completed.