An incessant ballet of comets around the star Beta Pictoris

A team of French astronomers has detected no less than 30 exocomets in a planetary system 63 light years away.

From time to time, a frozen body a few kilometers in diameter from the confines of the Solar System comes dangerously close to the Sun. As it heats up, its components sublimate giving rise to a gigantic hair of several hundreds of thousands of kilometers and an even more imposing tail whose length is typically millions of kilometers. A comet is born.

Illuminated by solar radiation, this diffuse cloud (often colored due to interactions with the solar wind) can then give rise to a magnificent spectacle. Perhaps the best-known comet is Halley’s periodic comet, which “reignites” on each of its passes near our star every 75 years or so (and last in 1986). Comet Hale-Bopp was visible for eighteen months between 1996 and 1997, a record in modern times. You may also remember comet Tchouri, whose solid nucleus was observed under all…

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