A Planet Impact 100 Light Years From Earth
Spitzer Space Telescope found evidence of what might be a planet collision which occurred a few thousand years ago. This planet impact was located about 100 light years from earth, near a star, HD 172555, which is still in the early stages of planet formation.
A 22,400 MPH Collision!
Spitzer detected evidence of vaporized and melted rock, in addition to rubble, all flung out from the giant impact. Further evidence from the infrared telescope shows that these two bodies must have been traveling at a velocity relative to each other of at least 10 kilometers per second (about 22,400 miles per hour).
Rock Melted, Vaporized and Sprayed Everywhere!
As the bodies slammed into each other, a huge flash of light would have been emitted. Rocky surfaces were vaporized and melted, and hot matter was sprayed everywhere. Spitzer detected the vaporized rock in the form of silicon monoxide gas, and the melted rock as a glassy substance called obsidian. On Earth, obsidian can be found around volcanoes, and in black rocks called tektites often found around meteor craters.
Shock waves from the collision would have traveled through the planet, throwing rocky rubble into space. Spitzer also detected the signatures of this rubble.
In the end, the larger planet is left skinned, stripped of its outer layers. The core of the smaller body and most of its surface were absorbed by the larger one. This merging of rocky bodies is how planets like Earth are thought to form.
An Impact Like This Hit Mercury
Astronomers say a similar type of event stripped Mercury of its crust early on in the formation of our solar system, flinging the removed material away from Mercury, out into space and into the sun. Our moon was also formed by this type of high-speed impact: a body the size of Mars is thought to have slammed into a young Earth about 30 to 100 million years after the sun formed. The sun is now 4.5 billion years old. According to this theory, the resulting molten rock, vapor and shattered debris mixed with debris from Earth to form a ring around our planet. Over time, this debris coalesced to make the moon.
|Artist's concept of a planet collision - the impact of a planet about the size of our moon slamming into another about the size of Mercury. Image by NASA. Larger Image.