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In another step forward in the search for habitable planets, a team of researchers based out of the US and Chile announced that they have located a large swarm of comets and gas moving in a cloud around a nearby star.

That star is Beta Pictoris, located 63 light years from Earth. Thirty years ago, it was discovered that Beta Pictoris is surrounded by an enormous, asymmetric disk of dust. If our Sun had a similarly-sized disk, it would extend past all planets into the inner edge of the Oort cloud, some 1000 Astronomical Units away (1 AU being the distance between Earth and the Sun). The Oort cloud is believed to be the main source of comets in our solar system.

Like our own Oort cloud, it is believed that Beta Pictoris’ disk is filled with countless small bodies that range from several times the diameter of the moon to well below dust-grain size. Using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile, astronomers have observed an especially large object is sweeping up thousands of smaller bodies and gas, mostly carbon monoxide (CO), in its wake. This has lead to speculation about a possible planet in the disk.

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