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Stellar death may spawn solar system

From Seattle, at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society

Material shed by a dying star might give birth to planets. The red dwarf star Mira A, located 350 light-years from Earth, is famous for its wildly varying brightness, which changes by a factor of 1,000 during every 11-month cycle. The elderly star blows off about an Earth-mass of its dusty outer layers every 7 years. About 1 percent of that material is snatched by the star's close companion, Mira B.

New near-infrared images indicate that the material—silicate dust similar in composition to Earth's mantle—has formed a disk around Mira B. Observations with two large telescopes, the Keck 1 on Hawaii's Mauna Kea and the Gemini South atop Cerro Pachon in Chile, reveal that the disk resides at about the same distance from Mira B as Saturn does from the sun, reports Michael Ireland of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

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