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Star sockets spark dusty theories.

Star sockets spark dusty theories

Two years ago, a NASA astronomer found something missing when he began reviewing photographs and computer images of certain stars, many of them located in the Orion constellation. The stars appeared to be surrounded by empty space, as if they were sitting in "sockets," as wide as 0.1 light-year, observed Walter A. Feibelman of the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. He speculated the mysterious sockets might have been formed by stars that exerted enough radiation pressure to push away dust and gas.

Intrigued by the Feibelman's finding, Michael W. Castelaz of the University of Pittsburgh's Allegheny Observatory decided to investigate further. But Castelaz reached a different conclusion. He theorized that the sockets might be shells of matter, envelopes of warm dust that should glow in the infrared. When Castelaz consulted a star catalog, he found infrared intensity measurements for 17 of Feibelman's 36 socket stars in the Orion constellation. Fourteen of the 17 emitted unusually intense infrared light, supporting the dust theory, he now reports. Castelaz suggests the dust may be left over from the material that formed the apparently young stars.

Taking this idea a tantalizing step farther, he speculates the dust cloud may be a younger version of the Oort cloud, a shell of comets believed to encircle our solar system. If that theory is confirmed, the regions around socket stars may be prime candidates in the search for planetary systems, he says.
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Author:Cowen, Ron
Publication:Science News
Date:Jan 27, 1990
Words:243
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