Webb Telescope discovers possible hidden planets in dust belts around star

This image of the dusty debris disk surrounding the young star Fomalhaut is from Webb’s Mid-Infrared Instrument. It reveals three nested belts extending out to 14 billion miles from the star. The inner belts — which had never been seen before — were revealed by Webb for the first time. The Hubble Space Telescope and Herschel Space Observatory, as well as the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, have previously taken sharp images of the outermost belt. However, none of them found any structure interior to it. These belts most likely are carved by the gravitational forces produced by unseen planets.

The James Webb Space Telescope has made another new discovery, this time in the layered dust rings surrounding a star outside of our galaxy.

Through previous imaging, scientists knew that an outer ring surrounded the hot star, but for the first time, the JWST’s Mid-Infrared Instrument showed three levels of dust that span more than 14 billion miles away from the star — which is “150 times the distance of Earth from the sun,” per NASA.

Both NASA and the European Space Agency contributed to the finding of the rings and the image captured.

Fomalhaut is a star located in the Piscis Austrinus constellation with its own asteroid belt. It’s about 440 million years old — which is about halfway through its lifespan, reported The New York Times. It’s a fairly complex star and only grows in complexity with the discovery of not one, but two more layers of dust rings.

The circular shape of the dust rings — which are separated by a gap — has led NASA to believe that hidden planets’ gravity is to blame for the shaping of the debris disks.

“The belts around Fomalhaut are kind of a mystery novel: Where are the planets?” said George Rieke, who is the U.S. science lead for Webb’s MIRI, which first observed the inner rings. “I think it’s not a very big leap to say there’s probably a really interesting planetary system around the star.”

What’s located in the dust is of interest to scientists because the star Fomalhaut is similar to stars found in our own planetary system. By studying it, scientists hope to draw conclusions that will help them understand more about space and, in turn, our Milky Way Galaxy.

“By looking at the patterns in these rings, we can actually start to make a little sketch of what a planetary system ought to look like — if we could actually take a deep enough picture to see the suspected planets,” the lead author of the published study, András Gáspár, told NASA.