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Hubble finds hints of a planet oddly far-flung from its star

If confirmed, the dark gap in space debris will challenge astronomers' theories

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10:08am, June 19, 2013

A dark ring in the middle of a dusty disk surrounding the star TW Hydrae may have been created by a growing planet.

A mysterious gap in a star’s dusty shell of debris could be the signature of a young planet circling its sun at twice the distance of Pluto’s orbit. If it does exist, the far-flung planet’s birth may be hard for astronomers to explain.

“If this is a planet, it is extremely challenging for existing planet formation theories,” says Katherine Kretke, an astronomer at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo.

Most planets are thought to begin their lives as small clumps of hot, rapidly moving dust and gas within vast disks of debris that orbit newborn stars. As a planet grows it behaves like a snow plow, scooping up some material to bulk up while flinging other material away, until it has cleared a smooth orbital path.

John Debes, an astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, used the Hubble Space Telescope to study a disk around TW Hydrae, a 10-million-year-old star located about 176 light-years from Earth.

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