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Disk of Rubble Around Dead Star May Be a Recipe for New Planets

April 08, 2006|From the Associated Press

Scientists think they have solved the mystery of how planets form around an exploded star, saying they have detected for the first time a swirling disk of debris from which planets can assemble.

The discovery is surprising because the dusty disk orbiting the pulsar, or dead star, resembles the cloud of gas and dust from which Earth emerged.

"It shows that planet formation is really ubiquitous in the universe. It's a very robust process and can happen in all sorts of unexpected environments," said Deepto Chakrabarty, an astrophysicist at MIT.

Using NASA's infrared Spitzer Space Telescope, MIT scientists observed bright radiation released by a disk of rubble surrounding a young pulsar 13,000 light-years from Earth. The pulsar was born when a giant star collapsed in a supernova about 100,000 years ago.

Although researchers didn't directly see planets forming in the disk, they believe the building blocks are present.

Chakrabarty said the debris disk most likely formed from metal-rich material that failed to escape the supernova.

The disk resembled ones seen around stars like the Earth's sun, leading researchers to conclude it might spawn a new planetary system.

The finding was reported this week in the journal Nature.

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