The Hubble Space Telescope has captured an incredible new image of the Vermin Galaxy and a young star system as they almost align in the sky. This cosmic coincidence has allowed astronomers to get a better look at the planetary system.
Hubble has previously observed this odd couple twice already, once in 2004 and once in 2011. The image is a lot more chaotic than what we are used to from the Hubble Space Telescope, but don’t let first impressions stop you from admiring it. We are seeing the protoplanetary disk that surrounds star HD 107146 and, on the bottom right, the Vermin Galaxy.
The galaxy got its name due to the fact that when the system was first observed, it was a nuisance to observations of the faint disk of material surrounding star HD 107146. But then researchers realized that the star was moving in a way that would soon cover the galaxy, and that they could possibly use its light to understand the property of the circumstellar disk.
HD 107146 is a Sun-like star, less than 200 million years old, surrounded by a disk of debris that stretches out to 300 times the distance between Earth and the Sun. A 2009 study suggested that a planet might actually be hiding in the disk. The star is located just 90 light-years away from our planet.
There will be a few more years to wait for a proper overlap, as the galaxy is not going to be fully obscured until 2020. The disk is currently estimated to be 10 percent of the mass of Earth and composed mostly of small grains. The size of the grains has been estimated using infrared light, which suggests the ring is extremely cold, reaching -222°C (-368°F).
The image is centered on a single wavelength band and shows a ring of debris clearly visible in orange, with the position of the star circled in green. The star itself is covered in a black box so that the disk and the galaxies are visible. Although it appears that we are looking at the system directly from above, the disk is actually inclined 25 degrees from the plane of the sky.
The star belongs to the constellation Coma Berenices and is not visible to the naked eye. If you’re curious what the Vermin Galaxy is up to, you’ll have to check back with Hubble in a few years.