Feeds

Astronomers probe star wrapped in comets

Tau Ceti dubbed 'Asteroid Alley'

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Build a business case: developing custom apps

A group of professional UK star gazers says that huge numbers of comets and asteroids encircle our nearest sun-like star, Tau Ceti, making it extremely unlikely that life has had a chance to evolve on any planets in the system.

Tau Ceti is a mere 12 light years away - the astronomical equivalent of just round the corner.. It is also the first star astronomers have seen with a disk of dust, comets and asteroids similar to that surrounding our own Sun.

Jane Greaves, Royal Astronomical Society Norman Lockyer Fellow and lead scientist, said: "Tau Ceti has more than ten times the number of comets and asteroids that there are in our Solar System." Because of this, the team has nicknamed the system Asteroid Alley. Any planets orbiting the star would suffer huge numbers of devastating impacts, similar in size to those that wiped out the dinosaurs, making it nearly impossible for life (as we know it) to gain a foothold.

Greaves suggests the findings mean we will have to rethink where we look for extra-solar life. "It may be that hostile systems like Tau Ceti are just as common as suitable ones like the Sun", she added.

The team bases its findings on observations taken with the James Clark Maxwell telescope, and SCUBA, the world's most sensitive submillimetre camera. The images reveal a disk of freezing dust (-210 ºC) in orbit around the star. This is most likely formed by countless collisions of asteroids and comets, gradually breaking into smaller pieces, impact by impact.

Team member Mark Wyatt says the reasons for the huge number of comets orbiting Tau Ceti are not fully understood. He suggests that our Sun could have passed close to another star at some point in its history, an encounter which could have stripped most of the comets and asteroids away.

The Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council website has an artist's impression of what the view might be like from the surface of a planet orbiting Tau Ceti. ®

Related stories

Cassini runs rings round Saturn
Saturn's Phoebe 'most like Pluto'
NASA to grow Brit strawberries on Mars
Scientist seeks alien cloud-dwelling bug

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
Boffins attempt to prove the UNIVERSE IS JUST A HOLOGRAM
Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?
Our LOHAN spaceplane ballocket Kickstarter climbs through £8000
Through 25 per cent but more is needed: Get your UNIQUE rewards!
China building SUPERSONIC SUBMARINE that travels in a BUBBLE
Shanghai to San Fran in two hours would be a trick, though
LOHAN tunes into ultra long range radio
And verily, Vultures shall speak status unto distant receivers
SpaceX prototype rocket EXPLODES over Texas. 'Tricky' biz, says Elon Musk
No injuries or near injuries. Flight stayed in designated area
Galileo, Galileo! Galileo, Galileo! Galileo fit to go. Magnifico
I'm just a poor boy, nobody loves me. But at least I can find my way with ESA GPS by 2017
EOS, Lockheed to track space junk from Oz
WA facility gets laser-eyes out of the fog
prev story

Whitepapers

Top 10 endpoint backup mistakes
Avoid the ten endpoint backup mistakes to ensure that your critical corporate data is protected and end user productivity is improved.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Backing up distributed data
Eliminating the redundant use of bandwidth and storage capacity and application consolidation in the modern data center.
The essential guide to IT transformation
ServiceNow discusses three IT transformations that can help CIOs automate IT services to transform IT and the enterprise
Next gen security for virtualised datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.