Joined: 3 Apr 99
Artists impression: For any planets orbiting Tau Ceti, the skies will be criss-crossed with comets and meteors will frequently strike the surface.
Credit: David Hardy
Though the star Tau Ceti is similar to the Sun, any planets it has are unlikely to be havens for life, say a team of UK astronomers. Using submillimetre images of the disk of material surrounding Tau Ceti, they found that it must contain more than ten times as many comets and asteroids than there are in the Solar System. With so many more space rocks hurtling around the star, devastating collisions of the sort that could lead to the destruction of life would be much more likely in the Tau Ceti system than in our own planetary system.
Tau Ceti, only 12 light years away, is the nearest sun-like star and is easily visible without a telescope. It is the first star to be found to have a disk of dust and comets around it similar in size and shape to the disk of comets and asteroids that orbits the Sun. But the similarity ends there explains Jane Greaves, Royal Astronomical Society Norman Lockyer Fellow and lead scientist: 'Tau Ceti has more than ten times the number of comets and asteroids that there are in our Solar System. We don't yet know whether there are any planets orbiting Tau Ceti, but if there are, it is likely that they will experience constant bombardment from asteroids of the kind that is believed to have wiped out the dinosaurs. It is likely that with so many large impacts life would not have the opportunity to evolve.'
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Tau Ceti: The Going Gets Tough for Life in Other Solar Systems
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