Is a Distant Dust Cloud Wreckage From a Cataclysmic Planetary Collision?

By Eliza Strickland | September 24, 2008 6:20 pm

planet collisionAstronomers believe they’ve found evidence of a massive collision between two planets in a mature solar system, shaking theories that such pileups only occur in young systems where planetary orbits aren’t yet stabilized. Says lead researcher Benjamin Zuckerman: “It’s as if Earth and Venus collided with each other…. Astronomers have never seen anything like this before; apparently major, catastrophic, collisions can take place in a fully mature planetary system” [Reuters].

Researchers base their theory on observations of vast clouds of dust and debris in a binary star system 300 light years away in the Aries constellation. Initially, they had a different idea about why the system contains 1 million times more dust that our own solar system: They had assumed it was a young star, just a few hundred million years old, and the debris was leftovers from planet formation. But earlier this year, another study showed the star was actually a binary pair, and that the stars were billions of years old [SPACE.com]. That finding forced astronomers to rethink what could have caused the dust; in older systems, most debris has either been consolidated into planets or pushed away by solar winds.

Zuckerman’s team then came up with a new hypothesis, which will be described in the December issue of the Astrophysical Journal: A recent collision between rocky planets, whose orbits could have been destabilized by the pull of double stars, could have created the dust. Zuckerman believes the collision that produced the dust must have been massive. “The collision of earth with an asteroid 65 million years ago, which apparently finished off the dinosaurs, would have been miniscule by comparison,” says Zuckerman [ABC Science].

Researchers were quick to set minds at ease by announcing that the odds of such a collision happening in our own solar system are very low. Zuckerman noted, however, that collisions have occurred in our solar system’s past. “Many astronomers believe our moon was formed from the grazing collision of two planetary embryos, the young Earth and a body about the size of Mars, a crash that created tremendous debris, some of which condensed to form the moon and some of which went into orbit around the young sun,” he said [AFP].

For the whole story of how the moon may have been formed by an impact sometimes called “the big whack,” turn to the DISCOVER article “Where Did the Moon Come From?

Image: UCLA/Lynette R. Cook

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space
MORE ABOUT: exoplanets, stars
  • HERCOLUBUS

    Modern Science and the Ancient Writings on the Genesis of the Solar System:
    http://www.ufodigest.com/news/0907/modernscience.html

  • NEMESIS

    *** THE PLANET X periodically getting closer to Earth once in 3,600 years generates numerous climate changes, one being the global warming with its natural consequence – the melting of the glaciers… Briefly, here is the process that took place during the last two periods in which the Planet X has passed between Mars and Jupiter, the nearest point to Earth:
    *** 7,200 years ago, during the cataclysm known as “Noah’s flood“, “sudden changes in temperature, violent storms and water avalanches from Antarctica broke off from their ‘ice prison’ Dr. John T. Hollin at Maine University (U.S.A.) considers that large pieces periodically came out of the Antarctic ice field creating a huge tide” (Zecharia Sitchin, The Twelfth Planet).
    *** 3,600 years ago, during the Jews’ Exodus from Egypt in the middle of the second millennium B.C., the Earth suffered big cataclysms. “A celestial body that recently entered our solar system – a new comet – came very close to Earth [causing – A/N] the eventual disappearance of the glacier layer“ (Immanuel Velikovsky, “Worlds in Collision“).
    *** The current situation – the Poles glaciers’ melting is accelerating . *** The logical explanation of the warming process on Earth and on the other planets in our solar system proves to be the one provided by I. Velikovsky, in his book from 1950: “Two celestial bodies have been attracted one to each other. The inner masses of the Earth were pushed to the periphery. The Earth, with its rotation movement disturbed, started to warm“:
    http://www.australia.to/story/0,25197,23040466-937,00,00.html

  • Damian

    Nesbit’s Law: A post’s intellectual coherency is directly proportional to its punctuational coherency.

  • http://www.louisvuitton78.com/ louisvuitton78

    I am really impressed with your writing skills as well as with the layout on your blog. Is this a paid theme or did you modify it yourself? Anyway keep up the nice quality writing, it is rare to see a nice blog like this one these days..

NEW ON DISCOVER
OPEN
CITIZEN SCIENCE
ADVERTISEMENT

Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

80beats

80beats is DISCOVER's news aggregator, weaving together the choicest tidbits from the best articles covering the day's most compelling topics.
ADVERTISEMENT

See More

ADVERTISEMENT
Collapse bottom bar
+

Login to your Account

X
E-mail address:
Password:
Remember me
Forgot your password?
No problem. Click here to have it e-mailed to you.

Not Registered Yet?

Register now for FREE. Registration only takes a few minutes to complete. Register now »