Comets spotted in distant solar system

Oct. 19, 2011 at 5:59 PM

LAUREL, Md., Oct. 19 (UPI) -- NASA says its Spitzer space telescope has detected evidence of icy comets raining down in a solar system that resembles our own as it was billions of years ago.

Spitzer's infrared detectors picked up indications that one or more comets was recently torn to shreds after colliding with a rocky body orbiting the star Eta Corvi, a NASA release said.

The cometary downpour resembles our own solar system several billion years ago during a period known as the "Late Heavy Bombardment," which may have brought water and other life-forming ingredients to Earth, scientists say.

During this epoch, comets and other frosty objects that were flung toward the sun from our outer solar system pummeled the inner planets.

The Eta Corvi system is around one billion years old, about the right age for such a hailstorm, scientists say, and a massive ring of cold dust located at the far edge of the Eta Corvi system seems like the proper environment for a reservoir of cometary bodies.

"We believe we have direct evidence for an ongoing Late Heavy Bombardment in the nearby star system Eta Corvi, occurring about the same time as in our solar system (history)," lead study author Carey Lisse, at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., said.

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