Astronomers have discovered a massive cluster of planetary material orbiting a young star

Astronomers have discovered what they believe is the largest planet-forming material in the universe.

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Astronomers have discovered what they believe is the largest chunk of planet-forming material orbiting a young star.

The giant disk, whose diameter is about 3,300 times the distance between Earth and the Sun, contains enough gas and dust to form super-sized planets in distant orbits, U.S. and German researchers said this week.

It’s so large and rich with dust and gas, the building blocks of planets, that scientists can „learn more about the birth and evolution of worlds beyond our own,” said lead author Christina Monsch of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

This so-called protoplanetary disk looks like a butterfly in the images, Mansch says. He said the dark, dusty center resembled the elongated body of a butterfly, while the blue and white lobes resembled two short filaments on the wings and antennae.

The findings were described in Astrophysical Journal Letters on Monday. Another paper by some of the same researchers was also accepted for publication.

The disk, designated IRAS 23077, is twice the size of the previous record holder, Monsch said.

Monsch said NASA’s Hubble and Webb space telescopes could detect whether planets the size of Jupiter or even larger are already forming. Rocky planets like ours may be too small to see, and larger planet-forming systems may be out there.

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„We have to look for them,” he said.

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