Remains of Earth-like planets discovered orbiting burnt-out stars

May 10, 2013

A huge number of incredibly cool and impressive discoveries about our solar system and the universe in general have been made using the Hubble space telescope. One of the latest discoveries made by scientists using the space telescope is signs of Earth-like planets discovered in the atmospheres of a pair of burnt out stars in a nearby star cluster.

The stars in question are white dwarfs with atmospheres said to be polluted by debris from asteroid-like objects falling onto them. According to scientists, this discovered indicates that the formation of rocky planets with the common in star clusters. A white dwarf is a smaller, dim remnant of a star once like our sun.

The stars in question are 150 light-years away from the area in the Hyades star cluster. That cluster is part of the constellation of Taurus. Astronomers say that of the approximately 800 known exoplanets, only four are known to orbit stars in a cluster. However, the astronomers believe that the reason planets aren't commonly discovered around clusters could have to do with the fact that cluster stars are typically young and very active producing lots of flares and other outbursts that make it difficult to study them in detail.

Spectroscopic observations made using the Hubble were able to identify silicon in the atmosphere of the two white dwarfs in this particular cluster. The scientists say that the presence of silicon is a major ingredient of rocky material that forms planets such as the Earth and other planets in our solar system. The theory is that the silicon present in the atmosphere of the stars was left there by planets destroyed by the gravity of the star. The scientists also believe that rocky debris left over from the destroying of planets is likely to have formed rings around the stars.

[via SpaceTelescope]

Must Read Bits & Bytes