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Comet storm detected in nearby solar system

Last Updated: Thursday, October 20, 2011 - 13:18

Washington: Icy comets could be bombarding an alien solar system in a storm resembling the one that is thought to have brought water and other life-forming ingredients to Earth several billion years ago, a new study has revealed.

NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope has spotted a band of dust around a nearby bright star in the northern sky called Eta Corvi that strongly matches the contents of an obliterated giant comet.

This dust is located close enough to Eta Corvi that Earth-like worlds could exist, suggesting a collision took place between a planet and one or more comets.

“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,” said Carey Lisse, senior research scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., and lead author of a paper detailing the findings.

Astronomers used Spitzer’s infrared detectors to analyze the light coming from the dust around Eta Corvi. Certain chemical fingerprints were observed, including water ice, organics, and rock, which indicate a giant comet source.

The light signature emitted by the dust around Eta Corvi also resembles the Almahata Sitta meteorite, which fell to Earth in fragments across Sudan in 2008. The similarities between the meteorite and the object obliterated in Eta Corvi imply a common birthplace in their respective solar systems.

A second, more massive ring of colder dust located at the far edge of the Eta Corvi system seems like the proper environment for a reservoir of cometary bodies. This bright ring, discovered in 2005, looms at about 150 times the distance from Eta Corvi as the Earth is from the Sun.

The study will be published in the Astrophysical Journal.


First Published: Thursday, October 20, 2011 - 13:18

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