A supercomputer model reveals how the environment around a young star is shaped by a planet’s gravity.
Beta Pictoris is a star located 63 light-years away. It’s estimated to be 21 million years old, or less than 1 percent the age of our solar system. Circling the star is a planet, called Beta Pictoris b, which passes vertically through the star’s bright disk of dust and debris twice each orbit. Since the disk’s discovery, astronomers have struggled to explain various features seen in images, including a warp in its center. To help find an answer, NASA scientists created a supercomputer model of the planetary system and simulated its evolution over time. The model reveals that the planet's motion drives spiral waves throughout the disk, a phenomenon that causes collisions among the orbiting debris and shapes it into the kinds of patterns seen by telescopes. The findings will help astronomers study the debris disks around other stars and even search for new planets. Watch the video to learn more.