You think you know someone, then you see them in a slightly different way and BAM, they surprise you. I'm not talking about other people of course, I'm talking about a fabulous star that has been studied and imaged a gazillion times.

Beta Pictoris has been revealed by many telescopes, even Hubble, to be home to the most amazing disk. Enter James Webb Space Telescope and WALLOP, with its increased sensitivity and instrumentation a new, exciting feature emerges.

A wide, thin horizontal orange line appears at the centre, extending almost to the edges, a debris disc seen edge-on. A thin blue-green disc is inclined about five degrees counterclockwise relative to the main orange disc. Cloudy, translucent grey material is most prominent near the orange main debris disc. Some of the grey material forms a curved feature in the upper right, resembling a cat's tail. At the centre is a black circle with a bar. The central star, represented as a small white star icon, is blocked by an instrument known as a coronagraph. The background of space is black.
This image from Webb's MIRI (Mid-Infrared Instrument) shows the star system Beta Pictoris. (NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, C. Stark and K. Lawson (NASA GSFC), J. Kammerer (ESO), and M. Perrin (STScI))

Beta Pictoris is the second brightest star in the southern constellation Pictor. It is a very young star, thought to be about 20 million years old and at a distance of just 63 light years, is in our cosmic backyard.

Observations in 1984 revealed that Beta Pictoris had the most amazing dust disk out of which planets are forming. The European Southern Observatory has since confirmed there are at least two planets (imaginatively called Beta Pictoris b and Beta Pictoris c) orbiting within the dust disk.

Over the years, Beta Pictoris has been the target for many observations, including those from the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) that revealed a second, previously unseen disk.

The second disk is slightly inclined to the first but further observations from the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) have revealed a new structure in this second disk.

The team, led by Isabel Rebollido from the Astrobiology Center in Spain used the Near-Infrared Camera (NIRI) and the Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) of the JWST to explore the disks of Beta Pictoris in more detail.

They were surprised to find a new structure at an angle to the secondary disk that was shaped like a cat's tail. Despite the plethora of previous observations including those from the space busting HST, the instruments on JWST are more sensitive and have greater resolution.

MIRI (Mid InfraRed Instrument), flight instrument for the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) during ambient temperature alignment testing in RAL Space's clean rooms at STFC's Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, 8th November 2010. (NASA)

The "Cat's Tail" was not the only surprise. When the MIRI data was studied, it revealed that the two disks were different temperatures revealing they were composed of different material. The secondary disk and Cat's Tail were shown to be a higher temperature than the main disk.

It's also easy to deduce they are both made of dark material since they have not been previously observed in visible or near infra-red light but are bright under mid infra-red wavelengths.

One of the theories to explain the higher temperature is that the material is highly porous, similar perhaps to the material found on comets and asteroids. The nature of the dust is one question that is perhaps easily addressed, something a little more challenging to answer is the nature and origin of the Cat's Tail.

The team explored a number of possible hypotheses that could explain the tail's shape but failed to settle on a satisfactory model. One of their favoured theories is that the tail is the result of an event that occured within the disk around a hundred years ago!

The event may have been a collision sending the dust into a trajectory that mirrors that of the impactor but then it starts to spread out to produce a curve. A contributory factor may simply be the angle of the tail from our vantage point causing the angle of the tail to seem steeper than it actualy is.

One thing is for certain, the recent observations of Beta Pictoris have revealed some surprises of a very well loved and observed object.

Further research will help us to gain a more fuller understanding of these new features but it leaves me wondering what other objects that we are familiar with still hold some surprises.

This article was originally published by Universe Today. Read the original article.