The universe may include other planets like Earth, according to a discovery by French astronomers who on Thursday reported evidence of planets orbiting a distant star.
They wrote in the science journal Nature that they used a new powerful telescope to examine dust around the star and had found the dust swept clear in places, indicating the possible presence of a planet.The star, Beta Pictoris, is 52 light-years from the sun. A light-year is the distance light travels in a year at the speed of 186,000 miles per second.
Earlier observations showed a disk of hot dust orbiting the star, something astronomers would expect to evolve into something like the Earth's solar system. Any planets in the disk would produce enough gravity to clear the dust in some areas.
Observation by a new high-resolution telescope at the European Southern Observatory in Chile showed dust had been swept out for a long way around the star - the same distance as that at which Pluto orbits the sun.
"We find that the dust is asymmetrically distributed and is clearly depleted within 40 astronomical units (3.7 billion miles) of the star, which we interpret as indicating the possible presence of at least one planetary body orbiting Beta Pictoris," Pierre-Olivier Lagage of the Service d'Astrophysique wrote.