According to astronomers from the University of Cambridge, giant clouds of poisonous gas around the star Beta Pictoris that they have been studying are evidence that a gigantic catastrophe occurred — one that just may have spawned life from the head-on collision of two planets or from multiple comet collisions.
Te astronomers detected the clouds of poisonous gas by using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile. The poisonous gas clouds around Beta Pictoris are made up of carbon monoxide. Though the clouds of gas are poisonous, they also could be a sign that the planets orbiting Beta Pictoris might harbor life.
How can poisonous gas clouds be a sign that the planets orbiting Beta Pictoris might harbor life?
The astronomers who have been analyzing the scenario and trying to come up with theories as to what caused the gas clouds to be there believe that either two Mars-sized planets collided into each other, or several of the planets orbiting the star Beta Pictoris might have been struck by a series of comets raining down upon them.
Either case could have “seeded” the planets with both carbon and oxygen-rich molecules that may have provided the basic foundation for life to arise on one or more of the planets orbiting Beta Pictoris.
Beta Pictoris is a relatively young star, at just around 20 million years old. It’s approximately 63 light years distant from Earth and there is, encircling the star, a dusty disc of debris, the remnants of past collisions and possibly parts of potential planets and moons that didn’t coalesce.
Astronomers are fascinated by what they’re learning as they continue to study the Beta Pictoris system because watching it is providing them with insight about the evolution of planetary systems.
Just how much gas is contained in the poisonous clouds?
The poisonous gas clouds of carbon monoxide lie far out, at 8 billion miles away from Beta Pictoris. Usually, clouds of carbon monoxide gas would break up within 100 years when exposed to ultraviolet starlight, so the astronomers theorize that the clouds are being replenished with poisonous carbon monoxide gas from comets that would have to be colliding into each other at a rate of once every 5 minutes.
There are over 200 million billion tons of carbon monoxide gas that make up the clouds. The researchers theorize that a hypothetical giant gas planet that orbits Beta Pictoris might be holding back comets due to its tremendously immense gravitational pull. When the comets finally break free, they’re like the cars of a speeding train, one which is out of control. The comets crash into each other, like the cars of the train would, and the continual collisions, according to the scientists, is what produces the huge clouds of carbon monoxide.
The hypothetical gas giant, which would be about Saturn’s size, has been described as being a “shepherd,” according to Mark Wyatt from Cambridge’s Institute of Astronomy. If one of their theories is right, that the gas giant is migrating outward from Beta Pictoris, the comets might be getting swept “into resonant orbits” around it before they break free — only to eventually crash into each other — making them the accident-prone sheep that follow the “shepherd.”
The evidence that the astronomers have gathered suggests that there is probably a second extremely large cloud of poisonous carbon monoxide gas located on the other side of the gas giant. These two gas clouds is another indication that the gas giant is a “shepherding” one. If so, there are likely two swarms of comets besides the two large gas clouds. The collision of comets on both sides of the gas giant would result in the production of the two immense gas clouds.
Scientists have suggested that the basic building blocks for life to develop on Earth might have been brought to our planet by comet or meteorite strikes. Meteor and comet strikes — during various periods of Earth’s history — which might have resulted in mass extinctions, could have also brought to Earth the building blocks of life, itself.
Written by: Douglas Cobb