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Looking for planets outside our solar system, also known as exoplanets, just got a little more complicated.

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Scientists typically search for patterns like rings, arcs and spirals in disks of dust and gas around young stars because those patterns are often considered a sign that an unseen planet orbits a star. But this new simulation shows that planets aren’t the only explanation — the dust and gas in the disk can interact to make those patterns, too. The light from the star strips the dust of electrons, which heats up the gas, which traps more dust, creating a cycle. Lumps of dust grow into spirals, rings and arcs. No planets necessary. Of course, planets could still be the cause, but the new study cautions against jumping to conclusions! Credit: NASA/Alex Richert
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