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Planet Signs? Sifting a dusty disk

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11:33am, October 6, 2004

Twenty years ago, astronomers peering at the young star Beta Pictoris got their first glimpse of a disk of dusty debris—the sign that planets, asteroids, and comets are forming and then banging together and releasing an abundance of dust.

Such debris disks have now been found around many young stars, but the one surrounding Beta Pictoris remains the most revealing about how planets form and evolve.

Recording spectra of the disk at midinfrared wavelengths, Yoshiko K. Okamoto of Ibaraki University in Japan and his colleagues now have gleaned new details about the size, composition, and crystal structure of dust particles. The data, which indicate three distinct bands of dust withi

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