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10.20.05

Sowing the Seeds of Planets?

This artist's concept shows microscopic crystals in the dusty disk surrounding a brown dwarf, or "failed star." The crystals, made up of a green mineral found on Earth called olivine, are thought to help seed the formation of planets.

NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope detected the tiny crystals circling around five brown dwarfs, the cooler and smaller cousins of stars. Though crystallized minerals have been seen in space before -- in comets and around other stars -- the discovery represents the first time the little gem-like particles have been spotted around confirmed brown dwarfs.

Astronomers believe planets form out of disks of dust that circle young brown dwarfs and stars. Over time, the various minerals making up the disks crystallize and begin to clump together. Eventually, the clumps collide and stick, building up mass like snowmen until planets are born.