Australian, British and American astronomers have announced the discovery of 15 planets around other stars - including, in a landmark find, a solar system roughly like Earth's.
One of the planets is the smallest discovered outside Earth's solar system, an encouraging sign in the hunt for Earth-like planets. MORE
17, 2002. Australian Dish finds star.
AUSTRALIAN astronomers have helped find a unique double-star system in which gravity has transformed one star into a giant red teardrop.The discovery was made by astronomers in Bologna, Italy, using the combined power of the CSIRO Australia Telescope National Facility at Parkes, New South Wales, and the Hubble Space Telescope.
The star system is a combination of a pulsar -- the remnants of an exploded star -- and a smaller red star at the stage before it shrinks to a white dwarf.
The pulsar is spinning at 274 times a second and dragging the red star around in its orbit, creating a long teardrop.
"We could be seeing the system at a very special phase of its life," said Dr Andrea Possenti, of the Astronomical Observatory, Bologna.
"That is, the pulsar has acquired enough gas from its companion to be spinning at hundreds of times a second, but the companion (red) star has not yet shrunk into a white dwarf."
Another theory was that the red star was an interloper that had become attached as the pulsar moved through a cluster of stars.
The searchers examined 96 global clusters, tightly packed balls of stars, on the edge of our Milky Way galaxy.
The pulsar was discovered two years ago by an international team using the Parkes telescope to specifically look for so-called millisecond pulsars.
The Parkes facility was made famous in the Australian film, The Dish, about the installation's role in the first moon landing.
The teardrop star was discovered much later, after observers monitored erratic radio signals from the pulsar.
Dr Possenti said that most pulsar stars of the millisecond type moved through space with tiny white dwarf stars not big enough to eclipse a pulsar's signal for half of its orbit.