Using the joint NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope, a group of astronomers has directly imaged three dusty disks — the outermost being an asteroid belt — surrounding a young star. The outermost of the disks was first discovered by NASA’s Infrared Astronomical Satellite in 1983 and has since been imaged in detail by the Hubble Space Telescope, Herschel Space Observatory, and the Atacama large millimeter/submillimeter array (ALMA). However, none of the images from Hubble, Herschel, or ALMA allowed scientists to determine the internal structure of the disk or the existence of additional disks — until now.
With Webb operational at the second Sun-Earth Lagrange point, scientists were eager to use its extremely sensitive infrared instruments to investigate the disk in infrared. When they finally got their hands on the observatory, they initially set out to just investigate the outermost disk surrounding the star. The results from Webb not only gave the team a look into the interior structure of the disk but also allowed them to discover and characterize two additional disks located closer to the star.