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Thread: NASA's Spitzer Telescope Sees Signs of Alien Asteroid Belt

  1. #1 NASA's Spitzer Telescope Sees Signs of Alien Asteroid Belt 
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    NASA's Spitzer Telescope Sees Signs of Alien Asteroid Belt

    NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has spotted what may be the dusty spray of asteroids banging together in a belt that orbits a star like our Sun. The discovery offers astronomers a rare glimpse at a distant star system that resembles our home, and may represent a significant step toward learning if and where other Earths form.

    "Asteroids are the leftover building blocks of rocky planets like Earth," said Dr. Charles Beichman of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, Calif. Beichman is lead author of a paper that will appear in the Astrophysical Journal. "We can't directly see other terrestrial planets, but now we can study their dusty fossils."

    Asteroid belts are the junkyards of planetary systems. They are littered with the rocky scraps of failed planets, which occasionally crash into each other, kicking up plumes of dust. In our own solar system, asteroids have collided with Earth, the moon and other planets.

    If confirmed, the new asteroid belt would be the first detected around a star about the same age and size as our Sun. The star, called HD69830, is located 41 light-years away from Earth. There are two other known distant asteroid belts, but they circle younger, more massive stars.

    While this new belt is the closest known match to our own, it is not a perfect twin. It is thicker than our asteroid belt, with 25 times as much material. If our solar system had a belt this dense, its dust would light up the night skies as a brilliant band.

    The alien belt is also much closer to its star. Our asteroid belt lies between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, whereas this one is located inside an orbit equivalent to that of Venus.

    Yet, the two belts may have one important trait in common. In our solar system, Jupiter acts as an outer wall to the asteroid belt, shepherding its debris into a series of bands. Similarly, an unseen planet the size of Saturn or smaller may be marshalling this star's rubble.

    One of NASA's future planet-hunting missions, SIM PlanetQuest, may ultimately identify such a planet orbiting HD 69830. The mission, which will detect planets as small as a few Earth masses, is scheduled to launch in 2011.

    Beichman and colleagues used Spitzer's infrared spectrograph to observe 85 Sun-like stars. Only HD 69830 was found to possibly host an asteroid belt. They did not see the asteroids themselves, but detected a thick disk of warm dust confined to the inner portion of the star system. The dust most likely came from an asteroid belt in which dusty smash-ups occur relatively frequently, about every 1,000 years.

    "Because this belt has more asteroids than ours, collisions are larger and more frequent, which is why Spitzer could detect the belt," said Dr. George Rieke, University of Arizona, Tucson, co-author of the paper. "Our present-day solar system is a quieter place, with impacts of the scale that killed the dinosaurs occurring only every 100 million years or so."

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    This is not new news, the date being back in April 2005. However I see no mention of it so I thought I would put it in. More and more we are becoming able to see and interpret what we see into other useful information. Should someone have told us in the early 80's that we could find extraterrestrial planets by looking at the data obtained, they would have looked at us as being a space case. The realm of what wasn't in our ablilities ever becomes more possible. To find a asteroid belt in a distant system seems yet more difficult to me. While true that it is spread over a larger area, it is also far less dense in structure than a planet. So how long till we find candidates for terrestrial possibilities?


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