New supercomputer simulations tracking the interactions of thousands of dust grains show what the solar system might look like to alien astronomers searching for planets. The models also provide a glimpse of how this view might have changed as our planetary system matured.
"The planets may be too dim to detect directly, but aliens studying the solar system could easily determine the presence of Neptune—its gravity carves a little gap in the dust," said Marc Kuchner, an astrophysicist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD, who led the study. "We're hoping our models will help us spot Neptune-sized worlds around other stars."
The dust originates in the Kuiper Belt, a cold-storage zone beyond Neptune where millions of icy bodies—including Pluto—orbit the sun. Scientists believe the region is an older, leaner version of the debris disks they've seen around stars like Vega and Fomalhaut.
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