By its 10-millionth birthday, a typical star has left its reproductive years behind. The hydrogen that surrounds it has finished condensing into gas giants, leaving the star to spend retirement drifting through its galactic neighborhood surrounded by its offspring. But the European Space Agency (ESA)'s Herschel telescope has spotted a stellar late bloomer living only 176 light-years away: TW Hydrae, a 10-million-year-old star still orbited by enough material to give birth to 50 planets the size of Jupiter. ESA and NASA scientists measured the light emitted by the hydrogen deuteride—a heavier form of hydrogen—in the planet-forming disc around the star (artist's impression above), which allowed them to precisely calculate the disc's mass. By applying this new technique to other stars, researchers can begin to understand just how diverse stellar families are. So will TW Hydrae ever become a parent? Check back in 176 years.
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