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Location: UFOUpDatesList.Com > 2003 > Dec > Dec 2

Dusty Disc May Mean Other Earths

From: Charles Chapman <charlesrc90405@yahoo.com>
Date: Mon, 1 Dec 2003 15:07:53 -0800 (PST)
Fwd Date: Tue, 02 Dec 2003 09:25:56 -0500
Subject: Dusty Disc May Mean Other Earths

Source: BBC-On-Line


Dusty disc may mean other Earths
By Dr David Whitehouse
BBC News Online science editor

Astronomers say they have evidence for Earth-like planets
orbiting a nearby star, making it more like our own Solar System
than any yet discovered.

The star, Vega, is one of the brightest in the sky, only 25
light-years away. It is three times larger than our Sun and, at
350 million years old, much younger as well.

Vega has a disc of dust circling it, and at least one large
planet which could sweep debris aside allowing smaller worlds
like Earth to exist.

The analysis, by astronomers from the Royal Observatory,
Edinburgh, is published in The Astrophysical Journal, and is
based on observations taken with one of the world's most
sensitive cameras.

The device, the Submillimetre Common-User Bolometer Array
(Scuba), is attached to the James Clerk Maxwell radio telescope
in Hawaii.

Computer model

Its detailed images of Vega and its environment confirm the
presence of a disc of very cold dust (-180C) in orbit around the

New computer modelling techniques show that structure seen in
the disc can be best explained by a Neptune-like planet orbiting
at a similar distance to Neptune in our own Solar System and
having similar mass.

The wide orbit of the Neptune-like planet means that there is
plenty of room inside it for small rocky planets similar to the
Earth. "The shape of the disc is the clue that it is likely to
contain planets," says Mark Wyatt of the Royal Observatory,

"Although we can't directly observe the planets, they have
created clumps in the disc of dust around the star."

If this is the case then it may mean that Vega has a planetary
system like our own.

Subject to test

The Vega system may have evolved a similar way to our Solar
System with gas giants such as Neptune forming close to the Sun,
and then being pushed out to their current orbits by
gravitational interactions with their neighbours.

During this process such giant planets suck in all the debris
that would otherwise pound young planets, allowing life to
develop more easily upon them.

The idea can be tested in two ways as Wayne Holland, who made
the original observations, explains: "The model predicts that
the clumps in the disc will rotate around the star once every
300 years.

"If we take more observations after a gap of a few years we
should see the movement of the clumps.

"Also the model predicts the finer detail of the disc's
clumpiness which can be confirmed using the next generation of
telescopes and cameras."