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Re: Space Dust May Be Another Solar System Similar

From: Stig_Agermose@online.pol.dk
Date: Thu, 9 Jul 1998 02:13:21 +0200
Fwd Date: Thu, 09 Jul 1998 08:45:30 -0400
Subject: Re: Space Dust May Be Another Solar System Similar


AP via USA TODAY. URL:

http://www.usatoday.com/life/science/space/lss238.htm

Stig


*******


07/08/98- Updated 03:26 PM ET

The Nation's Homepage


Space dust may be another solar system


LOS ANGELES - A ring of dust particles circling a nearby star
looks remarkably like the belt of comets outside Pluto and
Neptune, and researchers think it could mean there are other
solar systems similar to ours.

Although there's no direct evidence yet of any planets in the
system, astronomers using a telescope in Hawaii found a bright
spot in the dusty ring around Epsilon Eridani, among the 10
closest stars to Earth.

The spot could be dust sucked into the gravitational field of a
young planet, said lead researcher Jane Greaves, project
scientist for the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope operated by
Great Britain's Joint Astronomy Centre in Hilo, Hawaii.

Another reason the dusty ring is so intriguing is that it's
located at approximately the same distance from the star as the
Kuiper Belt is from our sun. The Kuiper Belt contains about
70,000 large comets and millions of smaller ones.

Because there are so many parallels between the star system and
our solar system, the findings may be opening a window on the
early history of our sun and planets.

"It's almost like having a time machine and seeing the solar
system form," Greaves said.

Benjamin Zuckerman, a University of California, Los Angeles,
professor of physics and astronomy, described the image as "a
snapshot of what our solar system might have looked like 4
billion years ago."

Zuckerman, another member of the research team, said astronomers
have found other systems that have planets, "but they don't look
like our solar system."

Greaves is scheduled to present the results Wednesday at the
Protostar and Planets conference in Santa Barbara, Calif. She
submitted them last week for publication in Astrophysical
Journal Letters.

The system appears to be about where our 4.5 billion-year-old
solar system was 600 million years into its existence, when it
was heavily bombarded by comets and other debris, but life
hadn't yet gained a foothold.

At an estimated age of 500 million to 1 billion years, the
system around Epsilon Eridani is probably too young for even
primitive life to have developed, the researchers and outside
experts agreed.

"But given a few billion years, who knows what could evolve?"
said Martin J. Duncan, an astrophysicist at Queen's University
in Kingston, Ontario, who was not involved in the research.

He said the results also suggest "the possibility that planetary
systems might be quite common in the galaxy."

In April, the same research team reported similar dusty disks
around three very hot stars - Fomalhaut, Vega and Beta Pictoris
- indicating planets were forming around them. As planets form,
they suck up nearby dust and gas like vacuum cleaners and can
partially clean out some regions, leaving behind celestial
doughnut holes.

Epsilon Eridani, which is a relatively close star at a distance
of 10 light years (each light-year is 5.9 trillion miles) is
much more sunlike than the three stars thought to be the centers
of other planetary systems. Nearly as large as the sun, it can
be spotted with the naked eye in the constellation Eridanus.


By The Associated Press

=A9COPYRIGHT 1998 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.