Spitzer Detects Signs Of Ice Bodies In Alien Solar System
October 19, 2011

Spitzer Detects Signs Of Ice Bodies In Alien Solar System

NASA said on Wednesday that its Spitzer Space Telescope has detected signs of icy bodies raining down in an alien solar system.

The telescope spotted a band of dust around a nearby bright star in the northern sky called Eta Corvi that matches the contents of an obliterated giant comet.

The space agency said the dust is located close enough to Eta Corvi that Earth-like worlds could exist, which suggest a collision took place between a planet and one or more comets.

The Eta Corvi system is about a billion years old, which researchers think is about the right age for this hailstorm.

"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," 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, said in a press release.

Astronomers used Spitzer's infrared detectors to analyze the light coming from the dust around Eta Corvi.  Certain chemical fingerprints were also found, including water ice, organics and rock.

The light emitted by the dust around Eta Corvi resembles the Almahata Sitta meteorite, which fell to Earth in fragments across Sudan in 2008, according to NASA.

NASA said the similarities between the meteorite and the object obliterated in Eta Corvi imply a common birthplace in their solar systems.

"We think the Eta Corvi system should be studied in detail to learn more about the rain of impacting comets and other objects that may have started life on our own planet," Lisse said in a press release.

The findings were published in the Astrophysical Journal.


Image Caption: This artist's conception illustrates a storm of comets around a star near our own, called Eta Corvi. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


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