The results help to confirm the view that other planetary systems form in ways similar to our solar system. The Kuiper belt is a disk of dust, gas and icy comets stretching from 40 to 10000 times the Earth-Sun distance. Recently astronomers observed protoplanetary disks encircling young stars up to 1 million years old and planetary disks surrounding more mature stars around 8 to 20 million years old. The AB Aurigae observations - taken by the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph onboard Hubble - are between these two points.

"We don't see any evidence of unseen large bodies sweeping out dust lanes, " says Grady. "But we have seen unprecedented structure in the dust clouds, suggesting that material is beginning to clump together in a process which could form planets in the next few million years."