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How our solar system looked like as a toddler
By IANS | Bharat Defence Kavach | Publish Date: 5/28/2015 12:00:00 AM

London: An international team of astronomers, including researchers from the University of Cambridge, has identified a young planetary system which may aid in understanding how our own solar system formed and developed billions of years ago. Using the Gemini Planet Imager (GPI) at the Gemini South telescope in Chile, the researchers identified a disc-shaped bright ring of dust around a star only slightly more massive than the sun, located 360 light years away in the Centaurus constellation.

"To be able to directly image planetary birth environments around other stars at orbital distances comparable to the solar system is a major advancement," said study co-author Nikku Madhusudhan of Cambridge s Institute of Astronomy. The disc is located about 37 and 55 Astronomical Units (3.4 - 5.1 billion miles) from its host star, which is almost the same distance as the solar system s Kuiper Belt is from the sun.

"It s almost like looking at the outer solar system when it was a toddler," said principal investigator Thayne Currie, an astronomer at the Subaru Observatory in Hawaii. The brightness of the disc, which is due to the starlight reflected by it, is also consistent with a wide range of dust compositions including the silicates and ice present in the Kuiper Belt. The star observed in this new study is a member of the system similar to that in which the sun was formed.

The current theory on the formation of the solar system holds that it originated within a giant molecular cloud of hydrogen, in which clumps of denser material formed. One of these clumps, rotating and collapsing under its own gravitation, formed a flattened spinning disc known as the solar nebula. The sun formed at the hot and dense centre of this disc, while the planets grew by accretion in the cooler outer regions.

The Kuiper Belt is believed to be made up of the remnants of this process, so there is a possibility that once the new system develops, it may look remarkably similar to our solar system. "Our discovery of a near-twin of the Kuiper Belt provides direct evidence that the planetary birth environment of the solar system may not be uncommon," Madhusudhan added.

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How our solar system looked like as a toddler

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