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Puny Parent? Planets may form around tiny orbs

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8:38am, February 2, 2005

Barely more massive than a planet itself, a failed star 500 light-years from Earth is nevertheless cloaked in a disk of gas and dust from which planets could coalesce. The finding highlights the possibility that planet formation may be even more common than researchers had previously suggested.

An infrared camera on the orbiting Spitzer Space Telescope took just 20 seconds to find evidence of the disk around the failed star, OTS 44, also known as a brown dwarf. Too small to sustain the burning of nuclear fuel at their cores, as bona fide stars do, brown dwarfs range in mass from about 13 to 80 times the mass of Jupiter.

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