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  5. [HOT] : This planet has suffered such a violent impact that it has lost its atmosphere.

[HOT] : This planet has suffered such a violent impact that it has lost its atmosphere.

[HOT] : This planet has suffered such a violent impact that it has lost its atmosphere.

For the first time, astronomers have spotted traces of an extremely violent collision that tore its atmosphere from a planet.

The power of an impact of this magnitude is hardly conceivable on our human scale. © 12019 – Pixabay

Space is a more hectic place than it looks. On a cosmos scale, it is not uncommon for massive celestial bodies to collide, especially in young solar systems. But on our tiny scale, these events are extremely rare, and it is very difficult to observe them. This is now done thanks to the work of an international team of researchers from MIT, Cambridge, and the University of Ireland in Galway, spotted by Futura.

It all starts with the observation of HF 172555, a solar system baby. He is a young boy of barely 23 million years old, quite close to our Earth to be able to be observed with great precision. And this is a happy coincidence, because it is also full of interesting features for astronomers.

Like all toddlers in its category, it is studded with particularly turbulent disruptive elements. At this age, the majority of the celestial bodies that compose it are still poorly, if at all, formed. Instead, we find a vast disk of dust and gas: the protoplanetary disk, the site of a vast cosmic upheaval.

A real work of forensic astronomer

Ultimately, it is this disc that will provide the material necessary for the formation of the planets, which will then clean their respective orbits over time. For astronomers, therefore, it is very interesting to take a closer look. Indeed, it is a live demonstration of the formation dynamics of planets. So we can learn a lot of information about how our own solar system came into being.

It was while making some of these routine observations that astronomers noticed a strange peculiarity. They spotted a funny cloud of dust and gas, located in the middle of a vast field of rock debris. A find that particularly intrigued researchers. Everything seemed to indicate to them that they had come face to face with a planet corpse.

Neither one nor two, they have put on their investigator outfits to collect clues about the scene of the drama and reconstruct the scene. They observed that the planet would have been mutilated by an event of extreme violence. This would have occurred about 200,000 years ago; on a cosmological scale, the corpse is therefore still all fresh. Good news, because it allowed them to study with precision the composition of the gas cloud before it is washed away by solar radiation.

A very instructive cataclysm

This is the composition of this cloud, surprisingly loaded with CO2, who offered the last key to researchers. They deduced that HF ​​172555 had been the scene of a cataclysm of biblical proportions; a planet comparable to the Earth would thus have hit another celestial body head-on. All at a staggering speed of more than 10 km per second. Suffice to say that the shock was terrifyingly violent. So much so that he would have purely and simply tore its atmosphere from the planet ! Unheard of in astronomer’s memory.

“This is the first time that this phenomenon has been detected,” explains Tajana Schneiderman, just a doctoral student at MIT but already lead author of the study. And like all great firsts in astronomy, it’s an observation that is full of interesting data. These will come complement and refine current models which describe the formation of planets and solar systems.

Ultimately, the main objective is to learn more about the in-game mechanisms. This will then help us to trace the history of our own solar system with the best possible accuracy. For this reason, it will therefore be interesting to continue to observe HF 172555 and all its particular phenomena; after all, we are in the front row, so why deny it!