By using the Gemini Planet Imager, an international team of astronomers have captured an image of a protoplanetary disc that shares remarkable similarities with our own Kuiper Belt — though as it was at a much earlier time in our Solar System’s history.

The young system, called HD 115600, is located about 360 light-years away. A bright ring of dust can be seen surrounding the host star, which is just slightly bigger than our own. The disc of planetary debris extends out at a distance between 37 and 55 AU, a distance that’s similar to the one between the Kuiper Belt and our Sun. Also, the brightness of the disc implies that it’s comprised of silicates and ice, which are also found in the Kuiper Belt. It’s thus an excellent example of what our Solar System might have looked like billions of years ago.


“It’s almost like looking at the outer solar system when it was a toddler,” noted principal investigator Thayne Currie, an astronomer at the Subaru Observatory in Hawaii, in a statement.

Top frame: HD 115600’s bright debris ring viewed nearly edge-on and located just beyond a Pluto-like distance to the star. Bottom frame: A model of the HD 115600 debris ring on the same scale. Credit: T. Currie

More from the University of Cambridge release:

The current theory on the formation of the solar system holds that it originated within a giant molecular cloud of hydrogen, in which clumps of denser material formed. One of these clumps, rotating and collapsing under its own gravitation, formed a flattened spinning disc known as the solar nebula. The sun formed at the hot and dense centre of this disc, while the planets grew by accretion in the cooler outer regions. The Kuiper Belt is believed to be made up of the remnants of this process, so there is a possibility that once the new system develops, it may look remarkably similar to our solar system.

The discovery shows that the proto-planetary environment of our Solar System may not be uncommon.


Read the entire study at The Astrophysical Journal Letters: “Direct Imaging and Spectroscopy of a Young Extrasolar Kuiper Belt in the Nearest OB Association.”

[ University of Cambridge ]

Email the author at Top image by T. Currie.