Magazine article Science News

New Evidence of Dust Rings around Stars

Magazine article Science News

New Evidence of Dust Rings around Stars

Article excerpt

Astronomers reported new evidence this week that some young stars in the Milky Way have disks of hot gas and dust similar to the one believed to have once encircled the sun. And just as scientists speculate that clumps of material from the sun's disk formed the solar system's planets, the disks surrounding the young stars may one day give birth to planets orbiting these Milky Way bodies, the researchers say.

Vilppu Piirola of the University of Helsinki, Finland, and his colleagues deduced the presence of disks by analyzing the polarization of near-infrared light from the regions surrounding two youthful stars--V376 Cas and V633 Cas--located some 2,000 light-years from Earth in the constellation Cassiopeia. Visible-light images from the Palomar Observatory, near Escondido, Calif., had already demonstrated that a cocoon of light-obscuring dust surrounds each star, but these images lacked the resolution to detect flattened disks.

Examining the pattern of polarization --the direction in which the electric field of a light wave vibrates as the wave heads toward an observer -- in the new infrared images, Piirola and his colleagues probed the environment of the two stars more deeply. Dust particles with a diameter of about 1 micron polarize near-infrared light extremely well, and the researchers found that infrared light from large areas around each star was indeed highly polarized. But they also found a relative absence of polarized light from a flattened, disk-shaped region surrounding each star. …

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