The Hubble telescope has spotted embryonic solar systems in space, greatly enforcing the idea that other worlds orbit other suns.
Embryonic solar systems, churning with dust and the promise of new planets, have been spotted around distant stars by the Hubble space telescope, boosting the idea that there may be other worlds like Earth, orbiting other stars like the sun.
``We have found a place where it is very possible that there will be planets within the next few million years,' Edward J. Weiler, program scientist for the space telescope, said Wednesday at a NASA news conference. ``This takes us closer to the final proof that there are other planets where there could be life.'C. Robert O'Dell, a Rice University astronomer, said the photos of a section of the Orion Nebula detected at least 15 stars surrounded by protoplanetary disks, or bands of dust of the type thought to form planets.
The disks, he said, resemble what the Earth and its solar system neighbors may have looked like when they were forming about the sun 4.6 billion to 5 billion years ago. The number of disks within the 1 light-year field viewed by the Hubble suggests planetary formation may not be rare.
``We now have direct evidence that material that can make planets exists around about half of the stars like our sun,' O'Dell said. ``It's much more common than we thought before.'
The astronomers said there are billions upon billions of stars in the universe about which planetary disks could have formed.
Orion is known as an area of intense star formation and astronomers study it to gain clues about the evolution of stellar bodies in the universe. The constellation is about 1,500 light-years from Earth - very close in astronomical terms - and is part of the Milky Way galaxy, which includes the sun.
Stephen E. Strom, a University of Massachusetts astronomer who specializes in the study of star formation, said the Hubble photos confirm the belief long held by many astronomers that a disk of dust from which planets can evolve exists around most stars as they form.
``This provides the first real visual demonstration that these inferences are correct,' Strom said.
The pictures, he said, ``show enough material for the formation of planetary systems like that orbiting our sun. You've all the ingredients there to make a solar system.'
BIRTH OF A PLANET
What's there: the Hubble photographs show dust bands illuminated by hot, bright stars elsewhere in the Orion nebula.
What they're made of: Gas and dust that are in the orbit of the forming star and are moving rapidly to be brought into the star's center.