Using the Gemini Planet Imager, scientists have discovered a disc-shaped bright ring of debris surrounding a nearby Sun-like star called HD 115600, a planetary system that resembles our own solar system in its infancy. This discovery may help scientists to understand how our solar system formed and developed billions of years ago.
HD 115600 is about 50% more massive than our Sun and is located approximately 360 light-years away from Earth in the constellation Centaurus. It sits in a star-forming region similar a lot like what the solar system must have looked like when the Sun was about 15 million years old.
The ring of dust and gas is located between about 37 and 55 astronomical units (3.4 and 5.1 billion miles) from HD 115600, which is about the same as our system’s Kuiper Belt — a region of comets and other objects beyond Neptune’s orbit, a home to Pluto and several other known dwarf planets and thousands of small icy bodies of the early stages of icy-planet formation in our solar system more than four billion years ago.
It’s almost like looking at the outer solar system when it was a toddler.
Said Dr. Thayne Currie lead author of a new study about the star system.
Its brightness — blue-grey colour, which is due to the starlight reflected by it — is also found to be consistent with a wide range of dust compositions including rocky silicates such as those found in the Kuiper belt.
This is absolutely the closest example we have of a young Kuiper belt.
HD 115600 is one member of a group of youthful stars 10-to-20-million-year-old called the Scorpius-Centaurus OB Association, a group of up to 6,000 other massive stars, its resemble the group of stars in which our sun was born.
The disc isn’t perfectly centered on the star, which suggests the presence of one or more unseen planets, the lurking planet could be as massive as Jupiter. Using models of how planets shape a debris disc, scientists have found that the planets there might be more ‘eccentric’ versions of the giant planets in the outer solar system.
The discovery of a near-twin of the Kuiper Belt provides direct evidence that the planetary birth environment of the solar system may not be uncommon.
Said Dr. Nikku Madhusudhan ~ co-author of the study.
The discovery represents the initial steps towards finding planetary system architectures similar to the solar system.
Madhusudhan told The Huffington Post in an email.
For example, we don’t know of any exoplanetary system with exactly the same architecture as our solar system, i.e. all the planets and the Kuiper Belt. But, in this case at least we have found the Kuiper Belt-analogue representative of the outer solar system.
Current theory on the formation of our Solar System holds that it originated within a giant molecular cloud of hydrogen 4.6 billion years ago, in which clumps of denser material formed. One of these clumps, rotating and collapsing under its own gravitation, formed a flattened spinning disc known as the Solar Nebula. The sun formed at the hot and dense centre of this disc, while the planets grew by accretion in the cooler outer regions. The Kuiper Belt is believed to be made up of the remnants of this process, so there is a possibility that once the new system develops, it may look remarkably similar to our Solar System.
To be able to directly image planetary birth environments around other stars at orbital distances comparable to the solar system is a major advancement.
Added Dr. Madhusudhan.
This discovery has been made possible thanks to the new generation of extreme adaptive-optics systems, such as those used on the GPI, in which the optics actively correct – in real time – for the distortion caused by effects such as atmospheric turbulence. This results in images with reduced glare and higher levels of sharpness than were previously possible at the same wavelengths.