Astronomers probe planet formation

Astronomers have spotted a swirling debris cloud around a sun-like 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 (minus 128 degrees Celsius), warmer than other similar disks. The sun has a surface temperature between 5,000 and 7,000 degrees Fahrenheit (2,760 and 3,871 degrees Celsius).

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

Photo: NASA


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