GMOS Perfect Spiral

A Deeper Look : Searching for life - Vega

In December 2003, modelling based on observational data was published in The Astrophysical Journal. It was based on observations taken with the world's most sensitive submillimetre camera at the time, SCUBA. The camera, built at the Astronomy Technology Centre in Edinburgh, operated on the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope in Hawaii. The SCUBA image showed a disk of very cold dust (-180 degrees centigrade) in orbit around the star.

Investigation of the distribution of material within this disk suggested something unique. Up to that point, about 100 planets had been discovered around other stars in our galaxy, but all had been 'hot Jupiter'-type planets, large and gaseous, orbiting very close to their parent stars, and therefore not very similar to our own solar system. The data from Vega however suggested the existence of a Neptune-like planet orbiting at a similar distance and with a similar mass to Neptune in our solar system. This was a substantial step towards finding potentially Earth-like planets, as the space between the newly-discovered planet and it's parent star was large enough to potentially contain small, rocky worlds similar to the smaller planets in our solar system - Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars.

SCUBA image with the position of the star (*) and the predicted position and direction of the planet (x) marked. The distance between the star and the planet is equivalent to twice that between the Sun and Neptune.
Paradoxically the star barely appears in the SCUBA image because it is far too hot to be seen with this kind of detector. Vega is, however, easily seen with the naked eye. It is the third brightest star visible from Northern latitudes and is bluish-white in colour.

Facts about Vega