December 15, 2005 in Nation/World

Distant star may give clues on birth of our solar system

Associated Press

PASADENA, Calif. – Astronomers have spotted a swirling debris cloud around a sunlike star where terrestrial planets similar to Earth may be forming in a process that could shed light on the birth of the solar system.

The star, located 137 light-years away, appears to possess an asteroid belt, a zone where the leftovers of failed planets collide. Terrestrial planets are those with rocky surfaces, as opposed to a gas composition.

Scientists estimate the star is about 30 million years old – about the same age as our sun when terrestrial planets like Earth were nearly formed.

“This is one of a very rare class of objects that may give us a glimpse into what our solar system may have looked like,” the Space Science Institute’s Dean Hines, who led the discovery, said in a statement.

Using the Spitzer Space Telescope, astronomers measured the temperature of the debris disk to be minus 262 degrees Fahrenheit, warmer than other similar disks. The sun has a surface temperature between 5,000 and 7,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

Earlier this year, another team using the Spitzer telescope announced the discovery of another asteroid belt orbiting a 2-billion-year-old sunlike star 35 light-years away.

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