NASA and the ESA announced a few days ago the discovery of an asteroid belt around Vega. I find this exciting, for several reasons, not the least of which is that we can all go outside and find Vega quite easily in the night sky–in fact it’s one of the brightest (in the summer, it’s part of the Summer Triangle which includes Deneb and Altair, and sits in the constellation Lyra).
What is even more important, is that the presence of an asteroid belt suggests the presence of planets. With all the discoveries of Exoplanets these days from the Kepler Observatory and others, it’s tempting to say ‘so what?’ and move on. But, Vega is only about 600 million years old. We get to watch a young solar system continue to form and grow from only 25 light years away.
Vega is similar to another star, Fomalhaut, where in 2008 the Hubble Telescope directly imaged an exoplanet. The discovery wasn’t confirmed until late last year, due to the severe elliptical orbit (which may have been caused by the orbits of other planets). Fomalhaut is another star, roughly the same age and distance from us as Vega, that can be seen with the naked eye in the night sky (low in the fall and winter, in Pisces).
So even though we can’t see these planets with ground-based telescopes, I still like to turn mine to Vega and Fomalhaut now. I might just be looking at a point of light from my perspective, but I know that there are planets orbiting, and somehow it makes it a little more special.
For more information: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.php?release=2013-012
Oh, and just for funsies: as of 0816 MST on the 10th of January, 2013, Voyager 1 is 18,501,453,800 kilometers from Earth. Light from the sun takes 17 hours, 8 minutes, and 38 seconds to reach her.