Scientists are one step closer to understanding how new planets form, thanks to research funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and carried out by a team of astrophysicists at the American Museum of Natural History.
Ben R. Oppenheimer, assistant curator in the museum's Department of Astrophysics, and his colleagues have used the Lyot Project coronograph attached to a U.S. Air Force telescope on Maui, Hawaii, to construct an image of material that seems to be coalescing into a body from the gas and dust cloud surrounding AB Aurigae, a well-studied star. The body is either a planet or a brown dwarf--something with mass between a star or a planet. Brown dwarfs have been found orbiting stars since a team that included Oppenheimer first discovered one in 1995.
The research results, accepted for publication in June's Astrophysical Journal, represent a significant step toward direct imaging and the study of exoplanets, which orbit stars other than the Sun, and may advance theories of planet and brown dwarf formations.
"The research builds upon Dr. Openheimer's past successes in the detection of a brown dwarf and several debris disks and take advantage of an improved, deformable, secondary mirror which was installed at the telescope facility in 2006," said NSF Program Manager Julian Christou. "The image produced speaks directly to the biggest, unresolved question of planet formation--how the thick disk of debris and gas evolves into a thin, dusty region with planets." Young stars generally have a lot of material caught in their gravitational pull--material that organizes itself into a disc over time. Astronomers believe planets form in this disc.
The image produced by Oppenheimer's team shows a horseshoe-shaped void in the disc with a bright point appearing as a dot in the void.
"The deficit of material could be due to a planet forming and sucking material onto it, coalescing into a small point in the image and clearing material in the immediate surroundings," Oppenheimer said. "It seems to be indicative of the formation of a small body, either a planet or a brown dwarf."
AB Aurigae is well-studied because it is young, between one and three million years old, and can therefore provide information on how stars and objects that orbit them form. One unresolved question about planet formation is how the initial thick, gas-rich disk of debris evolves into a thin, dusty region with planets. The observation of stars slightly older than AB Aurigae shows that at some point the gas is removed, but no one knows how this happens. AB Aurigae could be in an intermediate stage, where the gas is being cleared out from the center, leaving mainly dust behind.
"More detailed observations of this star can help solve questions about how some planets form, and can possibly test competing theories," says Oppenheimer. And if this object is a brown dwarf, our understanding of them must be revamped as brown dwarfs are not believed to form in circumstellar materials, Oppenheimer said.
Diane Banegas | EurekAlert!
SF State astronomer searches for signs of life on Wolf 1061 exoplanet
20.01.2017 | San Francisco State University
Molecule flash mob
19.01.2017 | Technische Universität Wien
An important step towards a completely new experimental access to quantum physics has been made at University of Konstanz. The team of scientists headed by...
Yersiniae cause severe intestinal infections. Studies using Yersinia pseudotuberculosis as a model organism aim to elucidate the infection mechanisms of these...
Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.
While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...
Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales
Studying properties of fundamental particles in condensed matter systems is a promising approach to quantum field theory. Quasiparticles offer the opportunity...
Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.
As part of the “ArKol – development of architecturally highly integrated façade collectors with heat pipes” project, Fraunhofer ISE together with its partners...
19.01.2017 | Event News
10.01.2017 | Event News
09.01.2017 | Event News
20.01.2017 | Awards Funding
20.01.2017 | Materials Sciences
20.01.2017 | Life Sciences