many stars like the Sun are circled by planets? Today, astronomers think they
may be quite rare. They base that assessment on the observations of a group of
stars, called T Tauri stars, that closely resemble the Sun when it was young.
These stars appear to lose the disk of dust and gas that surrounds them at birth
before there is time for planets to form.
However, two Vanderbilt astronomers
argue that the current wisdom may be wrong: Instead of losing the basic planetary
building blocks, the material surrounding these stars may simply be evolving in
ways that makes it invisible to Earth's telescopes as part of the planet building
process. They have begun gathering evidence to support their theory. If they are
right, then planetary systems similar to our own may be relatively commonplace.
December 2, 2002