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Webb discovers 3 belts around nearby Fomalhaut

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has found three nested belts around the young nearby star Fomalhaut, which suggests the presence of exoplanets.

The belts extend to around 23 billion kilometres from Fomalhaut, or 250 times the distance between the Earth and the sun, with the outermost belt roughly twice the scale of our own solar system’s Kuiper Belt. This is the first time the two inner belts have been seen.

According to András Gáspár of the University of Arizona in Tucson, lead author of a new paper describing these results, Fomalhaut’s system, which contains elements similar to our own planetary system, is the “archetype” of these debris disks formed from the collision of larger bodies. The presence of multiple belts suggests unseen planets are shepherding the debris.

“By looking at the patterns in these rings, we can actually start to make a little sketch of what a planetary system ought to look like — if we could actually take a deep enough picture to see the suspected planets,” said Gáspár.


This is the first time Fomalhaut’s inner belts have been seen, though the Hubble Space Telescope and Herschel Space Observatory, as well as the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), had previously captured images of the outermost belt.

“Where Webb really excels is that we’re able to physically resolve the thermal glow from dust in those inner regions. So you can see inner belts that we could never see before,” said University of Arizona team member Schuyler Wolff.

“With Hubble and ALMA, we were able to image a bunch of Kuiper Belt analogues, and we’ve learned loads about how outer disks form and evolve. But we need Webb to allow us to image a dozen or so asteroid belts elsewhere. We can learn just as much about the inner warm regions of these disks as Hubble and ALMA taught us about the colder outer regions.

“We definitely didn’t expect the more complex structure with the second intermediate belt and then the broader asteroid belt. That structure is very exciting because any time an astronomer sees a gap and rings in a disk, they say, ‘There could be an embedded planet shaping the rings!’”


The telescope — known as the spiritual successor to Hubble — launched on Christmas Day in 2021 and published its first images in July last year.

James Webb is a collaboration between NASA, the European Space Agency, the Canadian Space Agency, and French launch provider Arianespace.

Its mission dubbed VA256 has been in the making for 14 years and it’s hoped Webb will be able to reveal what the universe looked like almost 14 billion years ago.

Adam Thorn

Adam Thorn

Adam is a journalist who has worked for more than 40 prestigious media brands in the UK and Australia. Since 2005, his varied career has included stints as a reporter, copy editor, feature writer and editor for publications as diverse as Fleet Street newspaper The Sunday Times, fashion bible Jones, media and marketing website Mumbrella as well as lifestyle magazines such as GQ, Woman’s Weekly, Men’s Health and Loaded. He joined Momentum Media in early 2020 and currently writes for Australian Aviation and World of Aviation.

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