An artist's concept of a debris disk forming planets.
T. Pyle / SSC / NASA / JPL-Calte
This artist's conception shows a swirling debris cloud around a sun-like star.
updated 12/15/2005 2:19:07 PM ET 2005-12-15T19:19:07

Astronomers have spotted a swirling debris cloud around a sun-like star that may be forming terrestrial planets similar to Earth in a process that could shed light on the birth of the solar system.

The star, located 137 light years away, appears to possess an asteroid belt, a zone where the leftovers of failed planets collide. Terrestrial planets are those with rocky surfaces, as opposed to a gas composition.

Scientists estimate the star is about 30 million years old — about the same age as our sun when terrestrial planets like Earth were nearly formed.

"This is one of a very rare class of objects that may give us a glimpse into what our solar system may have looked like," Dean Hines of the Space Science Institute, who led the discovery, said in a statement.

Interactive: The search for extrasolar planets Using the Spitzer Space Telescope, astronomers measured the temperature of the debris disk to be minus 262 degrees Fahrenheit, warmer than other similar disks. The sun has a surface temperature between 5,000 and 7,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

Earlier this year, another team using the Spitzer telescope announced the discovery of another asteroid belt orbiting a 2-billion-year-old sun-like star 35 light years away.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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