Friday, January 15, 2010

"Alien Dust," HD 131488, and the Puzzle of Planets

"Alien Dust Kicked Up By Baby Planet Collisions " (January 12, 2010)

"In the search for other planetary systems like Earth that are capable of hosting extraterrestrial life, scientists have come across some very alien systems indeed. But the latest ones have researchers truly perplexed.

"New observations have found evidence for planet formation around stars much more massive than the sun, as well as dusty debris – thought to be leftovers from collisions between rocky planetary embryos. There's a twist: The dust has a completely different chemical makeup from the composition of our own solar system.

"These new findings were presented this month at the 215th meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Washington, D.C.

"Alien dust

"The strange dust that shows different chemical markers than what we find in our own neighborhood is in a star system about 500 light-years from Earth...."

I've said it before: it's interesting, when observations validate existing models for how the universe works. It's exciting when they don't: because that means there's something new to learn.

Aside from the "alien dust" close to HD 131488, there's a second belt of cold dust, much farther out. Which is a bit odd: apparently stars tend to have warm dust close in, cold dust far out, but not both.

The article also gives a bit of background about another set of stars, thousands of light years away: more data to piece together, trying to work out how the planets form.
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