03 October 2007
Astronomers have spotted evidence of a second Earth being built around a distant star 424 light-years away.
Using NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, astronomers have spotted a huge belt of warm dust swirling around a young star called HD 113766 that is just slightly larger than our sun. The dust belt, which scientists suspect is clumping together to form planets, is located in the middle of the star system's terrestrial habitable zone where temperatures are moderate enough to sustain liquid water. Scientists estimate there is enough material in the belt to form a Mars-sized world or larger.
At approximately 10 million years old, the star is just the right age for forming rocky planets, the researchers say. Their finding will be detailed in an upcoming issue of Astrophysical Journal.
"The timing for this system to be building an Earth is very good," said study team member Carey Lisse of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Baltimore, Md.
If the star system were too young, the planet-forming disk would be full of gas, and it would be making gas-giant planets like Jupiter instead. If it were too old, Spitzer would have spotted rocky planets that had long ago formed.
The star system also has the right mix of dusty materials in its disk to form an Earth-like planet, Lisse said.