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!
Applicability of dynamic facilitation theory to binary hard disk systems
08.12.2016 | Nagoya Institute of Technology
Will Earth still exist 5 billion years from now?
08.12.2016 | KU Leuven
In recent years, lasers with ultrashort pulses (USP) down to the femtosecond range have become established on an industrial scale. They could advance some applications with the much-lauded “cold ablation” – if that meant they would then achieve more throughput. A new generation of process engineering that will address this issue in particular will be discussed at the “4th UKP Workshop – Ultrafast Laser Technology” in April 2017.
Even back in the 1990s, scientists were comparing materials processing with nanosecond, picosecond and femtosesecond pulses. The result was surprising:...
Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...
A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.
Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...
In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.
“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...
The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.
The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...
16.11.2016 | Event News
01.11.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
08.12.2016 | Life Sciences
08.12.2016 | Physics and Astronomy
08.12.2016 | Materials Sciences