An international team of astronomers, including researchers from the University of Cambridge, has made the most detailed image of the ring of dusty debris surrounding a young star and found that the ice content of colliding comets within it is similar to comets in our own solar system. The presence of this well-defined debris disc around the star, Fomalhaut, along with its curiously familiar chemistry, may indicate that this system is undergoing its own version of the Late Heavy Bombardment, a period approximately four billion years ago when the Earth and other planets were routinely struck by swarms of asteroids and comets left over from the formation of our solar system.
The chemical kinship may indicate a similarity in comet formation conditions between the outer reaches of this planetary system and our own. Earlier observations of the star, known as Fomalhaut and located 25 light years from Earth, were taken in 2012 by astronomers using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), located in Chile. The 2012 results were gathered when the telescope was still under construction, and while they only revealed about half of the debris disc, the observations provided hints about the nature and possible origin of the disc.