Science Current Events | Science News | Brightsurf.com
 

APL Astronomer Spies Conditions 'Just Right' for Building an Earth

October 04, 2007
An Earth-like planet is likely forming 424 light-years away in a star system called HD 113766, say astronomers using NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope.

Scientists have discovered a huge belt of warm dust - enough to build a Mars-size planet or larger - swirling around a distant star that is just slightly more massive than our sun. The dust belt, which they suspect is clumping together into planets, is located in the middle of the system's terrestrial habitable zone. This is the region around a star where liquid water could exist on any rocky planets that might form. Earth is located in the middle of our sun's terrestrial habitable zone.

At approximately 10 million years old, the star is also at just the right age for forming rocky planets.

"The timing for this system to be building an Earth is very good," says Dr. Carey Lisse, of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, Md. "If the system was too young, its planet-forming disk would be full of gas, and it would be making gas-giant planets like Jupiter instead. If the system was too old, then dust aggregation or clumping would have already occurred and all the system's rocky planets would have already formed."

According to Lisse, the conditions for forming an Earth-like planet are more than just being in the right place at the right time and around the right star - it's also about the right mix of dusty materials.

Using Spitzer's infrared spectrometer instrument, he determined that the material in HD 113766 is more processed than the snowball-like stuff that makes up infant solar systems and comets, which are considered cosmic "refrigerators" because they contain pristine ingredients from the early solar system. However, it is also not as processed as the stuff found in mature planets and the largest asteroids. This means the dust belt must be in a transitional phase, when rocky planets are just beginning to form.

How do scientists know the material is more processed than that of comets? From missions like NASA's Deep Impact - in which an 820-pound impactor spacecraft collided with comet Tempel 1 - scientists know that early star systems contain a lot of fragile organic material. That material includes polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (carbon-based molecules found on charred barbeque grills and automobile exhaust on Earth), water ice, and carbonates (chalk). Lisse says that HD 113766 does not contain any water ice, carbonates or fragile organic materials.

From meteorite studies on Earth, scientists also have a good idea of what makes up asteroids - the more processed rocky leftovers of planet formation. These studies tell us that metals began separating from rocks in Earth's early days, when the planet's body was completely molten. During this time, almost all the heavy metals fell to Earth's center in a process called "differentiation." Lisse says that, unlike planets and asteroids, the metals in HD 113766 have not totally separated from the rocky material, suggesting that rocky planets have not yet formed.

"The material mix in this belt is most reminiscent of the stuff found in lava flows on Earth. I thought of Mauna Kea material when I first saw the dust composition in this system - it contains raw rock and is abundant in iron sulfides, which are similar to fool's gold," says Lisse, referring to a well-known Hawaiian volcano.

"It is fantastic to think we are able to detect the process of terrestrial planet formation. Stay tuned - I expect lots more fireworks as the planet in HD113766 grows," he adds.

Lisse has written a paper (Click here to read Lisse's paper, Circumstellar Dust Created by Terrestrial Planet Formation in HD 113766) on his research that will be published in an upcoming issue of Astrophysical Journal; he will also present his findings next week at the American Astronomical Society Division for Planetary Sciences meeting in Orlando, Fla. Lisse's research was funded through a Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory Stuart S. Janney Fellowship and a Spitzer Space Telescope guest observer grant.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., manages the Spitzer Space Telescope mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Science operations are conducted at the Spitzer Science Center at the California Institute of Technology, also in Pasadena. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

The University of Maryland is responsible for overall Deep Impact mission science, and project management is handled by JPL.

Johns Hopkins University


Related Space Telescope Current Events and Space Telescope News Articles


Hubble observes one-of-a-kind star nicknamed 'Nasty'
Astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope have uncovered surprising new clues about a hefty, rapidly aging star whose behavior has never been seen before in our Milky Way galaxy.

Retirement in the suburbs
Astronomers using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope have, for the first time, collected a census of young white dwarf stars beginning their migration from the crowded centre of an ancient star cluster to its less populated outskirts.

Astrophysicists prepare weather forecasts for planets beyond our solar system
"Cloudy for the morning, turning to clear with scorching heat in the afternoon." While this might describe a typical late-summer day in many places on Earth, it may also apply to planets outside our solar system, according to a new study by an international team of astrophysicists from the University of Toronto, York University and Queen's University Belfast.

Astronomers unveil the farthest galaxy
An international team of astronomers led by Yale University and the University of California-Santa Cruz have pushed back the cosmic frontier of galaxy exploration to a time when the universe was only 5% of its present age.

Volcano Loki observed from Earth
With the first detailed observations of a lava lake on a moon of Jupiter, the Large Binocular Telescope Observatory in Arizona places itself as the forerunner of the next generation of Extremely Large Telescopes.

The Pillars of Creation revealed in 3-D
Using the MUSE instrument on ESO's Very Large Telescope (VLT), astronomers have produced the first complete three-dimensional view of the famous Pillars of Creation in the Eagle Nebula, Messier 16.

Robotically discovering Earth's nearest neighbors
A team of astronomers using ground-based telescopes in Hawaii, California, and Arizona recently discovered a planetary system orbiting a nearby star that is only 54 light-years away.

Celestial fireworks celebrate Hubble's 25th anniversary
The glittering tapestry of young stars flaring to life in this new NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image aptly resembles an exploding shell in a fireworks display. This vibrant image of the star cluster Westerlund 2 has been released to celebrate Hubble's 25th year in orbit and a quarter of a century of new discoveries, stunning images and outstanding science.

A cold cosmic mystery solved
In 2004, astronomers examining a map of the radiation leftover from the Big Bang (the cosmic microwave background, or CMB) discovered the Cold Spot, a larger-than-expected unusually cold area of the sky.

Potential signs of 'interacting' dark matter suggest it is not completely dark after all
Astronomers believe they might have observed the first potential signs of dark matter interacting with a force other than gravity.
More Space Telescope Current Events and Space Telescope News Articles

Expanding Universe: Photographs from the Hubble Space Telescope

Expanding Universe: Photographs from the Hubble Space Telescope
by Owen Edwards (Contributor), Zoltan Levay (Contributor)


Time, space, and a telescope: Hubble’s most magnificent images

With investigations into everything from black holes to exoplanets, the Hubble Telescope has changed not only the face of astronomy, but also our very sense of being in the universe. On the 25th anniversary of its launch into low-earth orbit, TASCHEN celebrates its most breathtaking deep space images both as scientific feats and as photographic masterpieces.

Ultra high-resolution and taken with almost no background light, these pictures have answered some of the most compelling questions of time and space, while also revealing new mysteries, like the strange “dark energy” that sees the universe expanding at an ever-accelerated rate. In generous square format with several foldouts, the pictures...

NASA Hubble Space Telescope - 1990 onwards (including all upgrades): An insight into the history, development, collaboration, construction and role of ... space telescope (Owners' Workshop Manual)

NASA Hubble Space Telescope - 1990 onwards (including all upgrades): An insight into the history, development, collaboration, construction and role of ... space telescope (Owners' Workshop Manual)
by David Baker (Author)


The Hubble Space Telescope is an international venture primarily between the USA and Europe. More than any other space project, Hubble has encouraged an expanding interest in popular astronomy. With stunning views of the cosmos, it has inspired a new generation of enthusiasts to study the night sky through simple telescopes or in books. As such it has linked space technology with popular interest in astronomy and has thrilled specialists and the lay public alike.

The Hubble Cosmos: 25 Years of New Vistas in Space

The Hubble Cosmos: 25 Years of New Vistas in Space
by David H. Devorkin (Author), Robert W. Smith (Author), Robert P. Kirshner (Foreword)


To celebrate NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and its 25 years of accomplishments, let The Hubble Cosmos fill your mind with big ideas, brilliant imagery, and a new understanding of the universe in which we live. Relive key moments in the monumental Hubble story, from launch through major new instrumentation to the promise of discoveries to come. With more than 150 photographs including Hubble All-Stars—the most famous of all the noteworthy images—The Hubble Cosmos shows how this telescope is revolutionizing our understanding of the universe.

The Everything Kids' Astronomy Book: Blast into outer space with stellar facts, intergalactic trivia, and out-of-this-world puzzles

The Everything Kids' Astronomy Book: Blast into outer space with stellar facts, intergalactic trivia, and out-of-this-world puzzles
by Kathi Wagner (Author), Sheryl Racine (Author)


Explore the galaxies!Aliens, space ships, and constellations, oh my! Ride on a rocket ship to another galaxy with this stellar book. With The Everything Kids' Astronomy Book, astronomers-in-training will learn:How galaxies like the Milky Way were built.Why the sun's surface is 20,000-50,000-degrees Fahrenheit.Why the earth spins and how gravity works.What comets and asteroids are made of and how they affect planets.The truth about the man in the moon.Why Mars is so hot and what those rings around Saturn are.What scientists think about aliens and life in outer spaceIf you want to build a sky-watching kit or change your room into a small universe, this book will take you on a journey that is...

The Universe in a Mirror: The Saga of the Hubble Space Telescope and the Visionaries Who Built It

The Universe in a Mirror: The Saga of the Hubble Space Telescope and the Visionaries Who Built It
by Robert Zimmerman (Author)


The Hubble Space Telescope has produced the most stunning images of the cosmos humanity has ever seen. It has transformed our understanding of the universe around us, revealing new information about its age and evolution, the life cycle of stars, and the very existence of black holes, among other startling discoveries. But it took an amazing amount of work and perseverance to get the first space telescope up and running. The Universe in a Mirror tells the story of this telescope and the visionaries responsible for its extraordinary accomplishments. Robert Zimmerman takes readers behind the scenes of one of the most ambitious scientific instruments ever sent into space. After World War II, astronomer Lyman Spitzer and a handful of scientists waged a fifty-year struggle to build the first...

Space, Stars, and the Beginning of Time: What the Hubble Telescope Saw

Space, Stars, and the Beginning of Time: What the Hubble Telescope Saw
by Elaine Scott (Author)


Have you ever wished you could travel back in time?  Or visit a galaxy light-years away?  Or see a star being born? The Hubble telescope has allowed scientists to do just that. The Hubble’s dazzling images have transformed astronomy, shedding light on the deepest mysteries of the cosmos, sparking new discoveries and turning speculation into fact. Its gaze has helped astronomers find new galaxies, look back in time almost to the Big Bang, and verify the existence of dark energy, the mysterious force that is causing the expansion of the universe to accelerate. Through the eye of the Hubble, Elaine Scott skillfully guides readers along the evolution of our universe, investigating a question that was once unanswerable: “Where did we come from?”

Images from the Hubble Space Telescope

Images from the Hubble Space Telescope


A collection displaying a variety of the most stunning, awe-inspiring pictures pulled out of the cosmic heavens and brought down to Earth. The Hubble Space Telescope is one of humankind's greatest tools for understanding the ocean of chaos that our small planet sails through. These images are intended for inspiration and edification, to educate and elucidate the plain simple truth that we are dust in the wind, our frivolous wars and emails and traffic jams and industrial food supply are next to the nothing when measured on a cosmic scale.
Enjoy!

Hubble: Imaging Space and Time

Hubble: Imaging Space and Time
by David H. Devorkin (Author), Robert Smith (Author)


In the spirit of National Geographic’s top-selling Orbit, this large-format, full-color volume stands alone in revealing more than 200 of the most spectacular images from the Hubble Space Telescope during its lifetime, to the very eve of the 2008 final shuttle mission to the telescope. Written by two of the world’s foremost authorities on space history, Hubble: Imaging Space and Time illuminates the solar system’s workings, the expansion of the universe, the birth and death of stars, the formation of planetary nebulae, the dynamics of galaxies, and the mysterious force known as "dark energy."

The potential impact of this book cannot be overstressed: The 2008 servicing mission to install new high-powered scientific instruments is especially high profile because the...

Hubble's Universe: Greatest Discoveries and Latest Images

Hubble's Universe: Greatest Discoveries and Latest Images
by Terence Dickinson (Author)


The Hubble Space Telescope. No other telescope combines instant name recognition with the production of consistently spectacular images. Yet few people outside of the astronomy community realize that Hubble is now at the apex of its imaging capabilities. A collection of stunningly detailed pictures, made possible by the new Wide Field Camera 3, has yet to be incorporated into a popular-level book. Until now. Hubble's Universe will be the premier venue for the Hubble Telescope's most recent visual splendors. Bestselling astronomy writer Terence Dickinson showcases extraordinary late-breaking pictures, many of which have yet to receive wide distribution as news stories or in publications outside scientific papers, and presents a breathtaking portfolio drawn from an archive of over...

Hubble Space Telescope: New Views of the Universe

Hubble Space Telescope: New Views of the Universe
by Mark Voit (Author)


Since its launch in 1990, the Hubble space telescope has provided astronomers with both information about the universe and extraordinary images. This book contains over 100 colour inages from the Hubble.

© 2015 BrightSurf.com