Friday, June 24, 2005

The Great Eye is ever watchful

A recent photograph by the Hubble Space Telescope looks eerily like Sauron's great eye!

The ring is composed of dust particles in orbit around Fomalhaut, a bright star located just 25 light years away in the constellation Pisces Austalis (the Southern Fish). The picture was taken using Hubble’s coronagraph, a device which blocks the glare of a star while gathering the faint reflected light from any surrounding ring.

Astronomers suspect the ring around Fomalhaut is the dusty trace of a belt of small comet-like bodies that surround the star, similar to the Kuiper Belt surrounding our solar system. Frequent collisions between these bodies generate enough dust to replenish the ring, which would otherwise be eroded by the star’s radiation in short order (on a galactic scale, that is!). Since the Kuiper Belt is a by-product of the creation of our solar system, the ring around Fomalhaut may be similarly linked to planet formation.

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