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WITH the discovery of planets around distant stars in the Milky Way now almost routine, it takes evidence of planets beyond our own galaxy to turn heads - and that's what Erin Mentuch at the University of Toronto in Canada has produced.
Mentuch analysed 88 remote galaxies whose light was emitted when the universe was between a quarter and half its current age - making them far too remote for their stars to be seen individually. The galaxies' light output peaks at two distinct wavelengths. One represents the combined light of a galaxy's stars; the other, at longer wavelengths, comes from
So they are looking at a bunch of stars and making an educated guess at the number or amount of proto-planets. They are assuming that since the light from these distant galaxies has traveled so far that these galaxies were still in a formative state compared to the Milky Way.
but why would the rate of planet formation change?
We conclude that the most likely explanation for the 2-5 micron excess is the contribution from circumstellar disks around massive young stellar objects seen in the integrated light of high-redshift galaxies. Assuming circumstellar disks extend down to lower masses, as they do in our own Galaxy, the excess emission presents us with an exciting opportunity to measure the formation rate of planetary systems at cosmic epochs before our own Solar System formed.