Tiny dips in star brightnesses reveal 3 exocomets

earthsky.org | 5/26/2019 | Deborah Byrd
Click For Photo: https://en.es-static.us/upl/2019/05/exocomet-light-curve-TESS-cp-300x169.jpg

View larger. | Parts of the TESS light curve of Beta Pictoris showing the 3 dimming events caused by the exocomets. Image via Sebastian Zieba/Konstanze Zwintz/University of Innsbruck.

You’ve heard of exoplanets, or planets orbiting distant stars. Astronomers have also detected some exocomets, or comets orbiting faraway stars, too. When you think of it, exocomet detections are an amazing accomplishment! In contrast to planets, which are relatively solid and thousands of miles wide, the nuclei, or cores, of comets are only a few miles wide. However, when they come near their stars, comets develop long (if tenuous) tails that can stretch millions of miles. The first exocomets were detected in 1987 around the famous star Beta Pictoris, 63 light-years away, a very young A-type main-sequence star. Now three more exocomets have been discovered for Beta Pictoris by European and U.K. astronomers. They used data from TESS – NASA’s newest space-based planet-hunter, launched in April 2018 – to make the find, making these the first exocomets for TESS.

Zieba - @ - CyberZieba - Twitter - Konstanze

Sebastian Zieba (@CyberZieba on Twitter) and Konstanze Zwintz, both at University of Innsbruck in Austria – together with Matthew Kenworthy from Leiden University in the Netherlands and Grant Kennedy from the University of Warwick in the U.K. – made the discovery. Their work has been accepted for publication in the peer-reviewed journal Astronomy and Astrophysics. Find it online here.

TESS stands for Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite. As the name suggests, it searches for exoplanets (and exocomets) that transit, or cross in front of, their stars as viewed from Earth. When an object transits in front of its star, there is a tiny dip in the light received from the star. These dips reveal exoplanets, or, in this case, exocomets. As these astronomers pointed out in a statement:

Recognition - Signals - Exocomets

The recognition of signals from much smaller exocomets compared to...
(Excerpt) Read more at: earthsky.org
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