Ageing star’s dusty halo could mean it’s still churning out planets

Host of the dust disk is a double star called IRAS 08544-4431, which sits about 4,000 light years away from us

When stars are young, they often host massive rings of dusty material — the ingredients that will form their future planets. And late in life, scientists have found, stars sometimes form similar disks a second time. The images above, taken with the Very Large Telescope Interferometer (VLTI) at ESO's Paranal Observatory in Chile, provide the sharpest-ever glimpse of one of these mature star disks.

Scientists still aren't sure whether this star — or other dusty ones of the same age — are actually making planets so late in life. But the new images show that the disks of new and old stars are strikingly similar.

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This view shows the VLTI reconstructed image, with the brighter central star removed. A fainter glow from the secondary star is visible, which came as a surprise to the observers.

The host of the dust disk is a double star called IRAS 08544-4431. It sits about 4,000 light years away from us.

“By combining light from several telescopes of the Very Large Telescope Interferometer, we obtained an image of stunning sharpness — equivalent to what a telescope with a diameter of [nearly 500 feet] would see,” Jacques Kluska, an Exeter University researcher who helped to image the star system, said in a statement.

“The resolution is so high that, for comparison, we could determine the size and shape of one Euro coin seen from a distance of [1,243 miles].”

In addition to a clear picture of the ring itself — dust thrown off by the decrepit red giant — the researchers believe they can detect a fainter ring around the smaller companion star, as well.

Copyright: Washington Post

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