Icy Comet Orbiting HD 181327 Star May Explain Evolution Of Solar System

Posted: May 19 2016, 1:47am CDT | by , Updated: May 19 2016, 2:09am CDT, in News | Latest Science News


Icy Comet Orbiting HD 181327 Star May Explain Evolution of Solar System
ALMA image of the ring of comets around HD 181327 (colors have been changed). The white contours represent the size of the Kuiper Belt in the Solar System. Credit: Amanda Smith, University of Cambridge

Scientists have found evidence of icy comets orbiting a nearby Sun-like star, which may give a glimpse into how our own solar system developed.

An international team of researchers, led by the University of Cambridge, detected very low levels of carbon monoxide gas around HD 181327, which is located around 160 light years away in the Painter constellation.

The amounts of carbon monoxide detected using data from the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) -- an astronomical interferometer of radio telescopes in the Atacama desert of northern Chile -- are consistent with the comets in our own solar system.

The results of the study were presented at the recently-held 'Resolving Planet Formation in the era of ALMA and extreme AO' conference in Santiago, Chile. They have been accepted for publication in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

The young star system is about 23 million years old and the study is the first step in establishing the properties of comet clouds around Sun-like stars just after the time of their birth.

"Young systems such as this one are very active, with comets and asteroids slamming into each other and into planets," said led author Sebastian Marino from Cambridge.

"The system has a similar ice composition to our own, so it's a good one to study in order to learn what our solar system looked like early in its existence," Marino added.

Using ALMA, the astronomers observed the star, which is surrounded by a ring of dust caused by the collisions of comets, asteroids and other bodies.

It's likely that this star has planets in orbit around it, but they are impossible to detect using current telescopes. HD 181327 has a mass about 30 percent greater than the Sun and is located 160 light years away in the Painter constellation. The system is about 23 million years old, whereas our solar system is 4.6 billion years old.

This is the lowest gas concentration ever detected in a belt of asteroids and comets -- we're really pushing ALMA to its limits," said Marino.

"The amount of gas we detected is analogous to a 200 kilometer diameter ice ball, which is impressive considering how far away the star is," said Matrà. "It's amazing that we can do this with exoplanetary systems now." 

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