Up till this year, nearly 4000 exoplanets have been discovered, however, one of them might not be a planet at all.
In 2014, one of these exoplanets called ‘Fomalhaut b’ disappeared from the night sky. It is known for being the very first exoplanet that was discovered by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope.
When it was observed by astronomers for the first time in 2004, it emerged as a bright dot that was drifting across the night sky. However, ten years later it mysteriously disappeared.
Two astronomers from the University of Arizona proposed an explanation for the mystery. They believe that the planet was actually an expanding cloud that contained very fine dust particles that resulted from two icy bodies colliding together.
The Hubble telescope may have only captured the fallout from the collision. This took place in Kuiper’s Belt which is a solar system very similar to ours.
The image was captured when the dust particles from the collision were still dense and concentrated. However, by 2014, the particles had dissipated and vanished from view.
The lead author of the research paper, Andras Gaspar, also continued to add that the evidence of these collisions is also very valuable as they are extremely rare. He also believes that this could serve as a blueprint for how planets destroy each other.
This theory also explains other questions that were raised about the exoplanet. For example, exoplanets are usually not bright enough to be observed clearly in visible light because they are too small to reflect a large amount of light, however, Fomalhaut b was reported to be considerably bright.
Moreover, no infrared signature was detected on the planet which meant it was extraordinarily cold whereas younger planets are usually warm and emit infrared radiation.
The trajectory of the planet also has scientists puzzled as it is not on an elliptical orbit like planets normally are but on an escape path.
According to the calculations of the two astronomers, the Fomalhaut system is likely to experience such an event only once every 200,000 years. They have also added that it is still too soon to conclude the case of disappearing Fomalhaut b and firstly there’s a need to carry out an in-depth study of the system.
Meta Description: Astronomers have reported that an exoplanet found in 2004 has completely disappeared and may not be a planet at all