Rocky planets around distant star formed from alien dust, say astronomers

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Washington, January 7 (ANI): A team of astronomers has found dusty evidence for the formation of young, rocky planets around a star some 500 light-years distant, but one that is completely alien to the planetary building blocks of our own Solar System.

The evidence was found by astronomers from the UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles) with the help of the Gemini South telescope in Chile.

In the aftermath of collisions between planetary embryos around this star, the researchers discovered that the dusty debris bears no resemblance to the planetary building blocks of our own Solar System.

"Until now, warm dust found around other stars has been very similar in composition to asteroidal or cometary material in our Solar System," said Dr. Carl Melis, who led the research while a graduate student at UCLA.

"This newly discovered dusty star is a compelling exception," he added.

The star, known as HD 131488, appears to be surrounded by warm dust in a region called the terrestrial planet zone, where the star heats the dust to temperatures similar to those found on Earth.

"What makes HD 131488 truly unique is the unidentified dust species released from the colliding bodies as well as the presence of cold dust far away from the star," said UCLA professor of physics and astronomy Dr. Benjamin Zuckerman, who is a co-author of the research.

"These two characteristics make HD 131488 unlike any other star with evidence for massive quantities of dust in its terrestrial planet zone," he added.

"Typically, dust debris around other stars, or our own Sun, is of the olivine, pyroxene, or silica variety, minerals commonly found on Earth," said Melis.

"The material orbiting HD 131488 is not one of these dust types. We have yet to identify what species it is - it really appears to be a completely alien type of dust," he added.

Melis and his team argue that the most plausible explanation for the unusually large quantity of warm dust is a recent collision of two rocky planetary mass bodies.

"The hot dust almost certainly came from a recent catastrophic collision between two large rocky bodies in HD 131488's inner planetary system," Melis said.

Such a collision would provide an appropriate source of dust particles that are needed to explain the observations.

The team will continue to study HD 131488 to try and uncover the nature of its strange dust composition and search for additional stars with evidence for rocky planet formation. (ANI)

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