Astronomers have discovered a rare collection of young red dwarf stars close to our solar system that could give us a glimpse of slow-motion planet formation.
Astronomers from the Australian National University (ANU) and UNSW Canberra found large discs of dust around two of the stars, tell-tale signs of planets in the process of forming.
“We think the Earth and all the other planets formed from discs like these so it is fascinating to see a potential new solar system evolving,” said lead researcher Dr Simon Murphy from the ANU Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics.
However, other stars of this age usually do not have discs any more.
“The red dwarf discs seem to live longer than those of hotter stars like the Sun. We do not understand why,” Dr Murphy added.
The discovery of objects like these two challenges current theories about planet formation.
“It suggests the planet forming process can endure a lot longer than previously thought,” noted co-author professor Warrick Lawson from UNSW Canberra.
The red dwarves may also host planets that have already formed from the dusty discs.
The giveaway that the red dwarves had discs around them was an unusual glow in the infrared spectrum of the stars.
Although the discs were not observed directly, Dr Murphy said such close red dwarves offered a good chance of catching a rare direct glimpse of a disc, or even a planet, by employing specialised telescopes.
“Because they are fainter than other stars and there is not as much glare, young red dwarves are ideal places to directly pick out recently formed planets,” he pointed out.
The research appeared in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Journal.