Using the European Space Agency's (ESA) Herschel Space Telescope, a team of astronomers was recently able to determine that a nearby star called Beta Pictoris, located around 63 light-years away from Earth, is surrounded by a thick cloud of comets.
The stellar object is very young, and it is still surrounded by a massive ring of debris, gas and dust, called the protoplanetary young. It looks just like the solar system is believed to have looked when it was just 12 million years old. The Sun is now 4.6 billion years old.
Using Herschel advanced observations capabilities, experts were able to detect a series of very young comets, which look like what the most primitive comets must have looked like around the young Sun.
There is a major conclusion to be drawn from this study, namely the fact that matter inside the protoplanetary disks surrounding young stars tends to clump up in the same way, and produce the same classes of objects (meteorites, comets, asteroids and protoplanets) at roughly the same time,
The comets discovered around Beta Pictoris are running amok through the star system. If any extrasolar planets form around the star, they will undoubtedly be hammered by numerous cometary impacts, just like Earth was during the Late Heavy Bombardment, between 4.2 and 3.8 billion years ago.
If that is indeed the case, then another topic worth considering springs to mind. Under a theory called panspermia, water and all the building blocks of life (which have been detected throughout the Universe) were brought to our planet by comets.
In this scenario, comets carrying water and organic molecules slam into exoplanets around Beta Pictoris, seeding them with precious molecules and water. If any of these planets stabilize in an orbit located inside the star's habitable zone, then the most important conditions for the development of life are met.
This is a clear example of how finding out just a small amount of information about a particular object or phenomenon can, in fact, reveal a whole lot more than first meets the eye, Space
The new investigation represents “a step towards a better understanding of planet and star formation,” explains astrophysicist and study leader Lammert de Vries, who is based at the KU Leuven University, in Belgium.
Details of the research were published in the October 5 issue of the top scientific journal Nature.