What in the Universe: Circumstellar Disk

Video Player

Video Versions

What causes these beams of light?

Produced by the Space Telescope Science Institute’s Office of Public Outreach in collaboration with NASA’s Universe of Learning partners: Caltech/IPAC, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, and Sonoma State University.

  • Image AU Microscopii debris disk:  NASA, ESA, J.E. Krist (STScI/JPL); D.R. Ardila (JHU); D.A. Golimowski (JHU); M. Clampin (NASA/Goddard); H.C. Ford (JHU); G.D. Illingworth (UCO-Lick); G.F. Hartig (STScI) and the ACS Science Team
  • Animation of circumstellar disk: NASA, JPL-Caltech, R. Hurt
  • Animation of planets forming in disk: NASA/Goddard Space Flight 
  • Animation of solar system: NASA/Goddard Space Flight

Written by Leah Ramsay
Designed by Leah Hustak and Dani Player
Subject matter expertise from Dr. Quyen Hart
Editorial and design input from Margaret Carruthers and Timothy Rhue II
Music courtesy of Music for Non-Profits


 Red square against starry sky. Icons, star, galaxy, constellation, asteroid, solar system. Text, what in the universe? 

Image of two beams of blue light in darkness. 

Text, What causes these beams of light? A., hot gas, B. a distant galaxy, C., particle jets from a black hole, D., a disk of debris around a star. 

D is highlighted in grey. 

Light from the star AU Microscopii is blocked by the telescope's coronagraph in order to highlight the dusk of dust surrounding it. 

Circumstellar disk edge, starlight blocked by coronagraph, circumstellar disk edge. 

AU Microscopii, constellation Microscopium. 

The circumstellar disk around the star is oriented with its edge facing us. 

Starlight is reflected by the tiny dust grains of the disk, leftovers from the star's formation. 

As dust grains and gas swirl around a star, gravity clumps them together. 

These clumps become larger, forming planets and moons, and eventually a solar system grows around the star. 

Our own planetary system around the Sun was formed in this same way. 

By studying disks like the AU Microscopii, scientists learn more about how solar systems form.