Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Mysterious ripples found racing through planet-forming disk


Astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope and the European Southern Observatory's (ESO) Very Large Telescope in Chile have discovered never-before-seen features within the dusty disk surrounding the young, nearby star AU Microscopii (AU Mic).The fast-moving, wave-like structures are unlike anything ever observed, or even predicted in a circumstellar disk, said researchers of a new analysis. This new, unexplained phenomenon may provide valuable clues about how planets form inside these star-surrounding disks.

U Mic is located 32 light-years away in the southern constellation Microscopium. It is an optimal star to observe because its circumstellar disk is tilted edge-on to our view from Earth. This allow for certain details in the disk to be better seen.

This set of images of a 40-billion-mile-diameter edge-on disk encircling the young star AU Microscopii reveals a string of mysterious wave-like features. Astronomers discovered the ripples are moving across the disk at speed of 22,000 miles per hour. The cause of the phenomenon is unknown and never-before seen in stellar gas and dust disks.

Credits: NASA, ESA, ESO, A. Boccaletti (Paris Observatory)

Astronomers have been searching AU Mic's disk for any signs of clumpy or warped features that might offer evidence for planet formation. They discovered a very unusual feature near the star by using ESO's SPHERE (Spectro-Polarimetric High-contrast Exoplanet Research) instrument, mounted on the Very Large Telescope.

"The images from SPHERE show a set of unexplained features in the disk, which have an arc-like, or wave-like structure unlike anything that has ever been observed before," said Anthony Boccaletti of the Paris Observatory, the paper's lead author.

The images reveal a train of wave-like arches, resembling ripples in water. After spotting the features in the SPHERE data the team turned to earlier Hubble images of the disk, taken in 2010 and 2011. These features were not recognized in the initial Hubble observations. But once astronomers reprocessed the Hubble images they not only identified the features but realized that they had changed over time. The researchers report that these ripples are moving -- and they are moving very fast.

"We ended up with enough information to track the movement of these strange features over a four-year period," explained team member Christian Thalmann of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, Switzerland.

"By doing this, we found that the arches are racing away from the star at speeds of up to 10 kilometers per second (22,000 miles per hour)! Co-investigator Carol Grady of Eureka Scientific in Oakland, California, added, "Because nothing like this has been observed or predicted in theory we can only hypothesize when it comes to what we are seeing and how it came about."

The ripples farther away from the star seem to be moving faster than those closer to it. At least three of the features are moving so fast that they are escaping from the gravitational attraction of the star. Such high speeds rule out the possibility that these features are caused by objects, like planets, gravitationally disturbing material in the disk. The team has also ruled out a series of phenomena as explanations, including the collision of two massive and rare asteroid-like objects releasing large quantities of dust and spiral waves triggered by instabilities in the system's gravity.

"One explanation for the strange structure links them to the star's flares. AU Mic is a star with high flaring activity -- it often lets off huge and sudden bursts of energy from on or near its surface," said co-author Glenn Schneider of Steward Observatory in Phoenix, Arizona. "One of these flares could perhaps have triggered something on one of the planets -- if there are planets -- like a violent stripping of material, which could now be propagating through the disk, propelled by the flare's force."

The team plans to continue to observe the AU Mic system to try to understand what is happening. But, for now, these curious features remain an unsolved mystery.

The results will be published Oct. 8 in the British science journal Nature.


The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Maryland, conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, in Washington, D.C.

For illustrations and more information about AU Mic and the Hubble Space Telescope, visit: or

Media Contact

Ray Villard


Ray Villard | EurekAlert!

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Move over, lasers: Scientists can now create holograms from neutrons, too
21.10.2016 | National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

nachricht Finding the lightest superdeformed triaxial atomic nucleus
20.10.2016 | The Henryk Niewodniczanski Institute of Nuclear Physics Polish Academy of Sciences

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>