Great Plumstead astronomer’s joy as project finds new solar systems

Great Plumstead astronomer Mike Poxon runs an international study group to find ‘baby Solar Systems’

Great Plumstead astronomer Mike Poxon runs an international study group to find ‘baby Solar Systems’ hidden in disguise and received news from Argentina that about a dozen possible new UX Orionis stars have been found using his method. Photo : Steve Adams - Credit: Steve Adams

An amateur astronomer's stargazing initiative has led to the discovery of more than a dozen newly formed solar systems.

An image showing what a young solar system might look like.

An image showing what a young solar system might look like. - Credit: Archant

Michael Poxon, of Great Plumstead, formed an international study group in 2014 to search for stars that could one day be orbited by planets. It involved astronomers from around the world looking at hundreds of stars more than 400 light years away in the Milky Way.

And after more than a year of studying data, the 63-year-old has now received the news he had been waiting for.

On Wednesday he was contacted by an astronomer in Argentina to say that 13 of the stars observed show signs of newly formed solar systems.

Mr Poxon said: 'When I first started this I didn't expect to find many, if any at all. And we now have found a dozen, it has made my day.

'The next step is to get amateur astronomers to monitor these stars for their light changes, which will give us ideas about how many planets are forming and how fast they are forming.'

The study looked at about 300 eclipsing binaries, which are two stars that create an eclipse when they pass each other.

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Astronomers are able to identify these types of objects, known as algol stars, by looking at the way their light fades over time. But Mr Poxon said the type of light fade can be produced in another way – and this formed the basis of his study.

The former web designer explained: 'Stars, including our sun, are born from huge clouds of dust and gas, and after the star has formed, the remaining material often goes on to form a planetary system.

'As this material clumps together in bigger and bigger lumps, these infant planets can pass in front of the star and cause its light to fade just like those algol stars, producing what is known as a UX Orionis star.'

He said one of the stars, V730 Scorpii, was confirmed to be a young solar system, based on the information he received.

It was determined thanks to an Argentinian astronomer who looked at its infrared heat readings to see if it could be classed as a UX Orionis star.

Mr Poxon said the higher the heat readings from the star, the more likely they were to be caused by the swirling clouds around it, indicating the early stages of a new planetary system.

He added that the remaining 12 stars will require further study.

Have you made an interesting discovery? Call Luke Powell on 01603 772684.

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