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New stars and systems dazzle

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STELLAR CONFIGURATIONS: An illustration provided by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, comparing the size of a gargantuan star and its surrounding dusty disc (top) to that of the solar system. Photo: AP
STELLAR CONFIGURATIONS: An illustration provided by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, comparing the size of a gargantuan star and its surrounding dusty disc (top) to that of the solar system. Photo: AP

NASA's Spitzer telescope spots two mega solar system surprises

PASADENA: Scientists have found evidence of two mega solar systems - giant stars enveloped by what appear to be huge discs of planet-forming dust. The appearance of cloudy discs around stars are believed to represent current or future planetary systems. Our sun is surrounded by the Kuiper Belt, a disk containing dust, comets and other bodies.

Astronomers say the latest findings through the Spitzer Space Telescope of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) were surprising because such massive stars are thought to be inhospitable to the formation of planets.

'Our data suggest that the planet-forming process may be hardier than previously believed, occurring around even the most massive stars,' Joel Kastner of the Rochester Institute of Technology, said in a statement.

The results appear in the February 10 issue of the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

The new stars are believed to be 30 to 70 times bigger than the sun. Because of the stars' size, scientists say the surrounding debris discs are larger versions of the Kuiper Belt and probably contain about 10 times more mass.

The new stars were found during a survey of 60 bright stars. Mr. Kastner said the new discoveries stuck out from the rest because an analysis indicated the presence of flat discs.

Astronomers believe these discs might contain the early 'seeds' of planets, or possibly leftover debris from planets that have already been formed. The hypergiant stars, called R 66 and R 126, are located about 170,000 light-years away in our Milky Way's nearest neighbour galaxy, the Large Magellanic Cloud. The stars are about 100 times wider than the sun, or big enough to encompass an orbit equivalent to the earth's. The plump stars are heavy, at 30 and 70 times the mass of the sun, respectively. They are the most massive stars known to sport disks.

AP


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