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Researchers Find Raw Material for Large Planets Near 3 Stars

January 04, 2001

In a study that strengthens the likelihood that solar systems like our own are still being formed, Caltech researchers report in today's Nature that three young stars in the sun's neighborhood have the raw materials necessary for the formation of Jupiter-sized planets. Data from the European Space Agency's Infrared Space Observatory indicate that molecular hydrogen is present in the debris disks around young nearby stars.

Experts had long thought that primordial hydrogen--the central building block of gas giants such as Jupiter and Saturn--is no longer present in sufficient quantities in the sun's stellar vicinity to form new planets. The find increases the possibility that life exists outside our solar system because the presence of gas giants in the outer reaches of a solar system protects smaller rocky planets like Earth from catastrophic comet and meteor impacts.

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--Compiled by Times medical writer Thomas H. Maugh II

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