(This press release from January
17, 1996, is reproduced courtesy of the Space Telescope Science Institute.)
This image from NASAs Hubble Space Telescope shows for the first time
the inner region of a 200-billion mile diameter dust disk around the
star Beta Pictoris. This region has long been hidden from
ground-based telescopes because of the glare from the central star.
The disk is slightly warped. If the warp were there when the star
formed, it would long since have flattened out, unless it is produced
and maintained by the gravitational pull of a planet. The suspected
planet would dwell inside a five-billion mile diameter clear zone
inside the inner edge of the disk.
This is a visible light image of the disk, which appears spindle-like
because it is tilted nearly edge-on to our view. The disk is made up
of microscopic dust grains of ices and silicate particles, and shines
by reflected light from the star. This image indicates that the
central clearing is occupied by one or more planets which agglomerated
out of the disk and then swept out smaller particles. The bright star,
which lies at the center of the disk, is blocked out in this image.
False-color is applied through image processing to accentuate details
in the disk structure. Hubble reveals that the pink-white inner edge of
the disk is slightly tilted from the plane of the outer disk
(red-yellow-green) as identified by a dotted line. A simple explanation
is that a large planet is pulling on the disk. It is not possible to
see the planet directly because it is close to the star, and perhaps a
This image was taken with the Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 in January
1995. The star is located 50 light-years away in the southern
constellation Pictor (Painters Easel). Beta Pictoris is a main
sequence star, slightly hotter than our Sun.
Credit: Chris Burrows, Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) the
European Space Agency (ESA), J. Krist (STScI), the WFPC2 IDT team, and