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ESO detects 'exozodiacal light' around stars

ESO detects 'exozodiacal light' around stars

Scientists at the European Southern Observatory have discovered exozodiacal light in nine star systems.

Zodiacal light can be seen from earth after twilight or before dawn, Discovery News reports. But this discovery, published in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics, is the first time astronomers have seen exozodiacal light in "dozens of targets," according to Discovery News. Zodiacal light is a glow that seems to come from the sun's direction, and the exozodiacal light was seen near the star systems' habitable zones around the target stars.

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Astronomers made the observations with the ESO's Very Large Telescope Interferometer (yes, that's its real name) at the Paranal Observatory in Chile. The interferometer used near-infrared light from four auxiliary telescopes to view the scattered light particles, which come from the dust of asteroids and comets.

The researchers discovered that the stars surrounded by exozodiacal light were older than others. The exozodiacal light is 1,000 times brighter than our solar system's zodiacal light, and the scientists suspect the systems' dust could "become an obstacle for future observations," since they could block images of exoplanets and their own reflections of sunlight.

"If we want to study the evolution of Earth-like planets close to the habitable zone, we need to observe the zodiacal dust in this region around other stars," Steve Ertel, lead author of the study, from ESO and the University of Grenoble in France, said in a statement. "Detecting and characterizing this kind of dust around other stars is a way to study the architecture and evolution of planetary systems."