Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Mountains of Diamond, Oceans of Tar
That's what future planets of Beta Pictoris might develop. The star is a toddler, only twenty million years old. Planet formation is still millions of years away, but right now, the kid sports a halo of carbon gas. Here's a shot in infrared over on the right. Other artists have been more fanciful (see below) in depicting "Beta Pic," the more familiar term for this 375 trillion-mile distant star. Doing the math on such a voyage is an interesting little exercise. If I were able to set the cruise control on my new car for 65mph and drive an imaginary highway to Beta Pic, I would arrive in plenty of time (about 675 million years) to see those diamond mountains and avoid the crush hour traffic around young stars. I'm sure one or two members of my readership would love to get rid of me for a few geologic eras. Not that I wouldn't like to go some day. But on my salary, forget about a hyperdrive.

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