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This is an image of star HR 4796 in the constellation Centaurus. Two infrared wavelengths have been represented as light blue and red to make this picture. The disk of dust which is believed to have formed planets is seen in red here.
Click on image for full size
Image courtesy of JPL/NASA

WARNING! Planet Construction Zone Ahead!
News story originally written on April 27, 1998

Astronomers have found what appears to be another solar system. Astronomers used the Keck II telescope in Hawaii to take pictures of a star called HR 4796 in the constellation Centaurus. The images show a disk of dust around the star. This disk has an empty region in the middle that has been swept clean of material. Scientists think that in this empty area planets could be forming.

The HR 4796 star is 220 light years away from Earth. So there will be no visiting this other solar system any time soon! However, scientists will continue researching this star because what has been found there is of such significance in adding to our understanding of the formation of our own solar system.

"This may be what our solar system looked like at the end of its main planetary formation phase," said Dr. Michael Werner of JPL. "Comets may be forming right now in the disk's outer portion from remaining debris."

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