NASAs Spitzer Spots Space Dust

    April 21, 2005

NASA’s space telescope has spotted what may be dust from asteroids banging together much like in the old video game around a star quite similar to our own sun.

The discovery offers astronomers a rare glimpse at a distant star system that resembles our home, and may represent a significant step toward learning if and where other Earths form.

“Asteroids are the leftover building blocks of rocky planets like Earth,” said Dr. Charles Beichman of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, Calif. Beichman is lead author of a paper that will appear in the Astrophysical Journal. “We can’t directly see other terrestrial planets, but now we can study their dusty fossils.”

Beichman and colleagues used Spitzer’s infrared spectrograph to observe 85 Sun-like stars. Only HD 69830 was found to possibly host an asteroid belt. They did not see the asteroids themselves, but detected a thick disk of warm dust confined to the inner portion of the star system. The dust most likely came from an asteroid belt in which dusty smash-ups occur relatively frequently, about every 1,000 years.

The crew is still working on verification because there’s also the possibility this space dust could be tied to a particularly comet. Beichman said the comet theory is a longshot but had to be test because some rocks found in the Hale-Bopp comet showed up in the testing.

John Stith is a staff writer for WebProNews covering technology and business.