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James Webb telescope reveals 'cataclysmic' asteroid collision in nearby star system

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The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has found evidence of two giant asteroids slamming into each other in a nearby star system. The colossal collision ejected 100,000 times more dust than the impact that killed the dinosaurs

The violent impact occurred recently in Beta Pictoris, a star system located 63 light-years away in the constellation Pictoris. 

Beta Pictoris is a baby compared to our own solar system — having existed for only 20 million years compared with our system's venerable 4.5 billion years. It was first detected in 1983 by NASA's Infrared Astronomical Satellite (IRAS) spacecraft and is thought to have formed from the shockwave of a nearby supernova. 

While the young star system currently contains at least two gas giant planets it has no known rocky worlds like our own. But rocky inner planets may be in the process of forming, thanks to large dust-producing collisions like the one spotted by JWST, the researchers behind the new findings said in a June 10 presentation at the 244th Meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Madison, Wisconsin. 

Because it is still very young, the star system's circumstellar debris disk — the vast ring of gas and dust surrounding the star — is a significantly more violent place than our own, making it the perfect place for astronomers to study the tumultuous early years of planet-forming systems. The team added that their findings could offer a rare insight into the history of our own solar system.

"Beta Pictoris is at an age when planet formation in the terrestrial planet zone is still ongoing through giant asteroid collisions, so what we could be seeing here is basically how rocky planets and other bodies are forming in real time," lead study author Christine Chen, an astronomer at Johns Hopkins University, said in a statement.

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