Using Nasa's Spitzer Space Telescope as part of a survey in which British astronomers spotted a star factory in the constellation OrionPhoto: REUTERS
This image shows parts of the Orion Molecular Cloud being illuminated by nearby stars and glowing a green colour Photo: REUTERS
Dust particles contained in a type of burnt-out star known as "white dwarfs" could be the remnants of planets similar to our own, they concluded.
An international team, which included Dr Jay Farihi of the University of Leicester, found evidence that between one and three per cent of white dwarfs could once have had their own solar systems.
When stars similar to the sun get to the end of their life they swell up to become giant bodies known as "red giants".
As a red giant burns out, the outer layers blow off eventually leaving it as a skeleton star - or white dwarf.
Using Nasa's Spitzer Space Telescope, the team analysed the gassy atmospheres around existing white dwarfs, some of which contain particles of dust.
They found that the dust is made from the same basic materials as asteroids and rocky planets.
It suggests that the debris could be the remains of Earth-like planets which were engulfed by a swelling red giant before it turned into a white dwarf.
"What we have seen is a possible fate for our own solar system," Dr Farihi, who is presenting the findings at a conference at the University of Hertfordshire, told The Times.
"Many of the systems we are studying will have been similar to our own.
"It's a possibility that some of them could once have held life."