Research NewsAstronomy

Hints of Distant Comets?

Science  27 Sep 1996:
Vol. 273, Issue 5283, pp. 1799-1800
DOI: 10.1126/science.273.5283.1799b


Greenbelt, Maryland—By analyzing light from the disk of gas and dust that swirls around the nearby star Beta Pictoris, a Hubble Space Telescope spectrograph has yielded several kinds of evidence that the disk is home to swarms of comets. Features of the disk's ultraviolet spectrum suggest that blobs of gas are falling toward the star at several hundred kilometers per second, faster than gas alone could travel, and that something is continuously supplying carbon and carbon monoxide to the inner part of the disk. The material responsible for both spectral features could be evaporating from comets.