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"Winking" star may host new planets
Posted: Thu, Jun 20, 2002, 9:01 AM ET (1301 GMT)
KH 15D computer illustration of disk (G. Bryden) Astronomers said Wednesday that a distant young star with an unusual pattern of eclipses may be home to a circumstellar disk with one or more planets around it. The star, KH 15D, drops to 4 percent of its normal brightness every 48 days for 18 days. First noticed by a group at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, the star was intensively studied for eight months by telescopes in the US, Israel, and Uzbekistan. The new data lets them conclude that the star as a circumstellar disk with one or more clumps that regularly block light from the star as the disk rotates around the star. Those clumps could only exist if there is a large body orbiting close to the star whose gravity would maintain the clump; astronomers said they don't know if the object is a planet, brown dwarf, or low-mass star. The star is too distant to see this inner circumstellar disk directly, astronomers said. One astronomers not involved with the research said this discovery could turn out to be a "Rosetta Stone" that will allow scientists to decipher the mysteries of planetary formation.
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