The Hubble Telescope Spots a Cosmic 'Bat Shadow' Cast by a Young Solar System Like Ours

Thursday, 01 November 2018 - 12:36PM
Astronomy
Space
Thursday, 01 November 2018 - 12:36PM
The Hubble Telescope Spots a Cosmic 'Bat Shadow' Cast by a Young Solar System Like Ours
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Composite: NASA, ESA, and STScI + Pixabay
One thing many people don't understand about astronomy is that you can learn as much from what you can't see as what you can. Black holes are a great example, but a recent observation by the Hubble telescope shows that even shadows can provide astronomers with useful insights into distant star systems.

The images captured by Hubble show a huge shadow cast by the distant, Sun-like star HBC 672, which is 1,3000 light-years from Earth. The shadow is about 200 times the length of our solar system, and was nicknamed the 'Bat Shadow' by scientists. The shadow is created by HBC 672's light being blocked by a protoplanetary disk, which is made of gas, ice, rock, and dust, but scientists soon realized that the shadows they were seeing would only be possible if they were seeing the solar system edge-on. You can see the location of HBC 672 in the video below, along with its lighthouse-like shadows in the upper right of the final image.



From this perspective, the researchers were able to figure out some important details from the Bat Shadow, including the protoplanetary disk's composition, size, and shape. "These shadows are not easily seen in visible light," Max Mutchler, a scientist at the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) told phys.org, "but the stellar disks and the shadows they project onto the surrounding nebula can be easily detected in infrared light. This infrared Bat Shadow reveals properties of both the small, dusty disk and the much larger nebula."

What we can glean from the Hubble images suggests that the star system isn't too different from our own. According to Klaus Pontoppidan, an astronomer at STScI: "This is an analog of what the solar system looked like when it was only 1 or 2 million years old," explained. For all we know, the solar system once created a shadow like this."
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