Feeds

Astronomers spot fun-sized solar system

Seriously dinky

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Intelligent flash storage arrays

Astronomers working on data from NASA's Spitzer telescope have spotted a disk of planet-forming material in orbit around a brown dwarf - a failed star just 15 times the size of Jupiter.

This is the smallest potential solar system ever seen, and could help scientists understand more about how planetary systems form. It also raises the possibility that the universe could be littered with planetary systems orbiting bodies barely bigger than planets themselves.

A NASA artist's impression of a miniature solar system

Dr Kevin Luhman and his colleagues at the Gemini observatory in Hawaii first discovered the brown dwarf, OTS 44, about six months ago. Luhman is an astronomer at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and lead author of the new study.

It lies 500 light years away, in the Chameleon constellation. Once it had been identified, Spitzer's infrared instruments were used to get a closer look, and the dusty disk was revealed. Longer searches with Spitzer could even reveal disks around brown dwarfs below 10 Jupiter masses, the scientists say.

Luhman said: "There may be a host of miniature solar systems out there, in which planets orbit brown dwarfs. This leads to all sorts of new questions, like 'Could life exist on such planets?' or 'What do you call a planet circling a planet-sized body? A moon or a planet?'"

Disks like the one found circling OTS 44 have been found around brown dwarves with masses of roughly 25 times that of Jupiter before, but never around such a small one. Astronomers think there is enough material around OTS 44 to form several rocky, Earth-sized planets and a small gas giant.

Dr Giovanni Fazio, a colleague of Luhman's at the Harvard Smithsonian, commented: "In this case, we are seeing the ingredients for planets around a brown dwarf near the dividing line between planets and stars. This raises the tantalizing possibility of planet formation around objects that themselves have planetary masses." ®

Related stories

Coming up: Space Week
Astronomers spy proto-planetary hit-and-run
Scientists watch matter fall into black hole
UK backs Aurora Euro space programme

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

More from The Register

next story
SECRET U.S. 'SPACE WARPLANE' set to return from SPY MISSION
Robot minishuttle X-37B returns after almost 2 years in orbit
No sail: NASA spikes Sunjammer
'Solar sail' demonstrator project binned
LOHAN crash lands on CNN
Overflies Die Welt en route to lively US news vid
You can crunch it all you like, but the answer is NOT always in the data
Hear that, 'data journalists'? Our analytics prof holds forth
Experts brand LOHAN's squeaky-clean box
Phytosanitary treatment renders Vulture 2 crate fit for export
Carry On Cosmonaut: Willful Child is a poor taste Star Trek parody
Cringeworthy, crude and crass jokes abound in Steven Erikson’s sci-fi debut
Origins of SEXUAL INTERCOURSE fished out of SCOTTISH LAKE
Fossil find proves it first happened 385 million years ago
America's super-secret X-37B plane returns to Earth after nearly TWO YEARS aloft
674 days in space for US Air Force's mystery orbital vehicle
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Cloud and hybrid-cloud data protection for VMware
Learn how quick and easy it is to configure backups and perform restores for VMware environments.
Three 1TB solid state scorchers up for grabs
Big SSDs can be expensive but think big and think free because you could be the lucky winner of one of three 1TB Samsung SSD 840 EVO drives that we’re giving away worth over £300 apiece.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.