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September 1, 2014, Monday, 05:07 GMT | 00:07 EST | 09:37 IST | 12:07 SGT
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Scientists reported the detection of a huge disk of dusty debris around a sunlike star by the name of NGC-2547 ID8, located nearly 1,140 light-years from Earth in the constellation Vela. The mammoth collision allowed scientists to see the wreckage of a distant young star - a landmark find that could shed light on how our own solar system's rocky planets took shape long ago.

The sunlike star is 35 million years old and, is the same mass and size as our sun. Its age - the same age our sun was when similar impacts were building Earth, Mars and other rocky planets in our solar system. Scientists feel the cloud of dusty debris was likely spawned when two planetary building blocks slammed into each other around two years ago.

Huan Meng - study lead author -from the University of Arizona in Tucson said, "This is the first detection of a planetary impact outside of our own solar system." Meng added, "This discovery really puts our own solar system into context."

Excerpt courtesy of space.com

Meng and his colleagues studied NGC-2547 ID8 using NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope and several different ground-based instruments. They watched the star from May 2012 to August 2013, with a hiatus from mid-August 2012 to January 2013, when the object was too close to the sun to be observed. When NGC-2547 ID8 came back into view in January 2013, Spitzer measured a dramatic flare-up of infrared light indicative of emission from small dust particles. This outburst faded rapidly over the remainder of the observing period. Computer modeling work suggested that the surge was caused by the impact of two big, rocky objects —large asteroids or protoplanets, the progenitors of full-fledged rocky worlds such as Earth, in the "terrestrial planet zone" of the NGC-2547 ID8 system. (Gas giants like Saturn form farther out and at a slightly earlier stage of a star's life.)

The collision probably occurred during or slightly before the 2012-13 observing gap, Meng said. It generated a mammoth cloud of vapor that condensed into small silicate spherules, which were in turn broken down into dust by subsequent collisions among themselves. These dust particles are so small that they were quickly expelled from the NGC-2547 ID8 system by stellar radiation pressure, explaining why the infrared spike was so short-lived. Meng and his colleagues are confident that this interpretation of the surprising flare-up is the correct one.

Meng said, "I can't imagine something else that could produce so much dust just within four months."

Astronomers have seen debris disks around other stars before, but those disks have primarily been stable structures akin to the asteroid belt, Meng added.

Meng said, "This is the first time that we really see a debris disk vary. The implication is that we are witnessing the immediate aftermath of a huge impact."

Such impacts can be destructive or constructive, researchers say. Sometimes the objects obliterate each other, as may be the case with the NGC-2547 ID8 crash, and sometimes they glom together to build something bigger. Astronomers have spotted the wreckage of a mammoth collision around a distant young star, a landmark find that could shed light on how our own solar system's rocky planets took shape long ago. The researchers detected a huge disk of dusty debris around a sunlike star called NGC-2547 ID8, which lies about 1,140 light-years from Earth in the constellation Vela. The cloud was likely spawned when two planetary building blocks slammed into each other just two years ago or so, scientists said.

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