Friday, February 08, 2008

Dusty Clues: Study suggests no dearth of Earths

Ron Cowen / Science News OnLine

Supposedly, there's no place like home. But a new study suggests that earthlike planets orbit or are forming around many, if not most, nearby sunlike stars, providing places where life might have gained a foothold.

That conclusion comes from an infrared survey of some 300 stars similar in mass to the sun and ranging in age from a youthful 3 million years to a middle-aged 3 billion. Using NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, Mike Meyer of the University of Arizona in Tucson and his colleagues surveyed those stars and their surroundings at an infrared wavelength of 24 ┬Ám. In many cases more radiation was emitted than the stars themselves could have produced, indicating the presence of dust. That may in turn be a sign of possible terrestrial planet formation, Meyer and his colleagues, including Lynne Hillenbrand and John Carpenter of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, argue in the Feb. 1 Astrophysical Journal Letters.

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