An extremely active planetary system has been detected around the nearby star Eta Corvi, by astronomers using the infrared NASA Spitzer Space Telescope. Its sensitive detectors identified signs of multiple collisions going on around the star, probably between comets and planets.
What Spitzer is detecting are clues pointing to a devastating scenario, where a massive comet was recently disintegrated following a large-scale collision with a rocky exoplanet. The event would have split the original comet into the debris field the telescope is detecting.
In this image, “a glowing red flash captures the moment of impact on the planet. Yellow-white Eta Corvi is shown to the left, with still more comets streaming toward it,” NASA explains. The event most likely produced a belt of dust and other debris around the impacted planet.
A similar situation may have occurred within our own solar system, during a period that spanned between 4.3 and 3.8 billion years ago, called the Late Heavy Bombardment. On the bright side, this is when Earth is believed to have acquired most of its water, and potentially the first seeds of life.