By Michelle Starr
How typical is our Solar System? The question bedevils planetary scientists, but making detections of analogous features in other planetary systems is pretty hard. Yet astronomers have just made one – of a Kuiper belt-like feature around a star 320 light-years away.
It is, they say, the first polarimetric detection of the inner ring circling the star we call HD 141569A. And it’s revealing new details about a crucial period of planetary development.
HD 141569A is actually a pretty interesting and well-studied object. It has two very old companions in a trinary system, both red dwarfs at the end of their lives. But HD 141569A is just 5 million years old, around three times the mass of the Sun, of a blue spectral type burning hot and bright.
In 1999, a disc was discovered around the young star, with two rings peaking at 220 and 360 astronomical units, respectively. These are the remnants of material that swirled around and accreted into the star as it was forming; over time, bits of material start sticking to each other, accreting into planets.
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