Minerals found in dust around distant star

Oct. 4, 2012 at 4:20 PM
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PARIS, Oct. 4 (UPI) -- Pristine material that matches that of comets in the solar system have been detected in a dust belt around a distant star, European astronomers report.

The composition of the dust -- in the cold regions around the star Beta Pictoris -- has been determined for the first time, using the European Space Agency's Herschel space observatory, they said.

Beta Pictoris is 63 light-years from Earth and hosts a gas giant planet along with a dusty debris disc that could, in time, evolve into a ring of icy bodies much like the Kuiper Belt found outside the orbit of Neptune in the solar system, a release from the ESA's Paris headquarters said Wednesday.

Astronomers said they have detected the mineral olivine, which crystallizes out of the protoplanetary disc material close to young stars to be incorporated into asteroids, comets and planets.

"Thanks to Herschel, we were able to measure the properties of pristine material left over from the initial planet-building process in another solar system with a precision that is comparable to what we could achieve in the laboratory if we had the material here on Earth," ESA Herschel project scientist Goran Pilbratt said.

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