The potential planet-forming disk (or 'protoplanetary disk') of a sun-like star is being violently ripped away by the powerful winds of a nearby hot O-type star in this image from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope.

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The potential planet-forming disk (or "protoplanetary disk") of a sun-like star is being violently ripped away by the powerful winds of a nearby hot O-type star in this image from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. At up to 100 times the mass of sun-like stars, O stars are the most massive and energetic stars in the universe.

The O star can be seen to the right of the image, as the large orange spot with the white center. To the left, the comet-like structure is actually a neighboring solar system that is being destroyed by the O star's powerful winds and intense ultraviolet light.

In a process called "photoevaporation," immense output from the O star heats up the nearby protoplanetary disk so much that gas and dust boil off, and the disk can no longer hold together. Photon (or light) blasts from the O star then strip the potential planet-forming disk off its neighbor star by blowing away evaporated material. This effect is illustrated in the smaller system's comet-like structure.

The system is located about 2,450 light-years away in the star-forming cloud IC 1396. The image was taken with Spitzer's multiband imaging photometer instrument at 24 microns. The picture is a pseudo-color stretch representing intensity. Yellow and white represent hot areas, whereas purple and blue represent relatively cooler, fainter regions.

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