Science & Tech

Structure in dust around Vega may be signature of planet

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Astronomers use finding to test longstanding theory

Vega, located 25 light years away in the constellation Lyra, is the brightest star in the summer sky. Observations of Vega in 1983 with the Infrared Astronomy Satellite provided the first evidence for large dust particles around another star, probably debris related to the formation of planets. This discovery likely inspired Carl Sagan to place the alien listening post at Vega in his novel Contact. In January 2001, astronomers David Wilner, Matt Holman, Paul Ho and Marc Kuchner of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) in Cambridge, Mass., announced that features observed in the dust swirling around the nearby star Vega may be the signatures of an unseen planet in an eccentric orbit around the star. The report was presented at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Washington, D.C. This work was supported by the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and a grant from NASA’s Origin of Solar Systems Program.