NASA was able to detect new evidence pointing to a massive collision between exoplanets in a distant system using its airborne observatory. According to the agency, studying planetary collisions can help understand how star systems evolve since a similar event may have caused the formation of the Moon.
BD +20 307 is a binary star system that's located about 300 light-years from Earth. Even though the stars within this system are over a billion years old, the dust debris swirling around them are not cold, which contradicts common observations regarding very mature star systems.
Observing BD +20 307 Using SOFIA
Recently, while looking into BD +20 307, NASA's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) came across traces of even more warm dust, supporting the idea that two exoplanets collided in this region.
This isn't the first time that SOFIA discovered evidence of a planetary collision in BD +20 307. In October last year, the observatory's infrared imaging capabilities revealed that the brightness of the debris floating within the star system has increased by 10 percent since 2010 when it was observed by the Spitzer Space Telescope. For scientists studying BD +20 307, finding traces of a collision provides clues as to what happens when two massive cosmic bodies hit one another.
Planetary Collisions And The Moon's Formation
According to NASA, studying planetary collisions can provide valuable information regarding the formation of cosmic objects in Earth's neighbourhood. Many planetary scientists believe that a similar event led to the formation of the Moon.
It is widely believed that billions of years ago, a massive object as big as Mars collided the Earth. The violent impact sent chunks of debris into space, which then coalesced into another cosmic object that became Earth's Moon. "The warm dust around BD +20 307 gives us a glimpse into what catastrophic impacts between rocky exoplanets might be like," Maggie Thompson, a graduate student at the University of California said in a statement.