Astronomers have used the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) to take a look, for the first time in infrared light, at an asteroid belt outside our own solar system. It’s a huge asteroid belt that lies around the relatively young star Fomalhaut, located about 25 light-years from the sun in the constellation Piscis Austrinus.
The asteroid belt around Fomalhaut is larger and more complex than our own Kuiper Belt
In a press release, astronomers say that the asteroid belt around Fomalhaut is both larger and more complex than the Kuiper Belt that orbits our own star, the sun.
But to their surprise, they found that the dusty structures are much more complex than the asteroid and Kuiper dust belts of our Solar System. Overall, there are three nested belts extending out to 23 billion kilometres from the star — that’s 150 times the distance of Earth from the Sun. The scale of the outermost belt is roughly twice the scale of our Solar System’s Kuiper Belt of small bodies and cold dust beyond Neptune. The inner belts — which had never been seen before — were revealed by Webb for the first time.
Astronomers suspect that the gravity from undiscovered planets has affected the structure of the belt.
Astronomers have not yet been able to detect any planets around Fomalhaut. However, it is suspected that the structure of the asteroid belt around the star is due to the gravity of undiscovered planets, in a similar way to how the structure of the Kuiper Belt has been influenced by the gravity of Neptune.
Scientists plan to study Fomalhaut more closely to find any planets around the star
To find any planets around Fomalhaut, astronomers will now study images of Fomalhaut more closely. It is believed that there may be three or more planets around the star that are the size of Uranus and Neptune.