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Portrait of an Infant Solar System
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Portrait of an Infant Solar System

July 14, 2004
This infant solar system was discovered posing along the lonely outskirts of the Rho Ophiuchi dark cloud, a star forming region 500 light-years from Earth. Enlarged in an infrared false-color portrait from the European Southern Observatory's Antu telescope, the dark dusty disk of planet-forming material lies edge-on, neatly dividing two small nebulae which reflect light from a hidden, youthful central star. Enthusiastically nicknamed the Flying Saucer, the circumstellar disk is about 300 astronomical units across (1 a.u. is the Earth-Sun distance) or about 5 times the diameter of Neptune's orbit. The twin reflection nebulae have clearly different colors for reasons which still remain a mystery, but the relatively isolated neighborhood of the natal solar system is a stroke of luck.


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