Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Theorists Tackle Astronomer’s Mysterious ‘Baby’ Planet

12.11.2004


In June, researchers from the University of Rochester announced they had located a potential planet around another star so young that it defied theorists’ explanations. Now a new team of Rochester planet-formation specialists are backing up the original conclusions, saying they’ve confirmed that the hole formed in the star’s dusty disk could very well have been formed by a new planet. The findings have implications for gaining insight into how our own solar system came to be, as well as finding other possibly habitable planetary systems throughout our galaxy.



“The data suggests there’s a young planet out there, but until now none of our theories made sense with the data for a planet so young,” says Adam Frank, professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Rochester. “On the one hand, it’s frustrating; but on the other, it’s very cool because Mother Nature has just handed us the planet and we’ve got to figure out how it must have been created.”

Intriguingly, working from the original team’s data, Frank, Alice Quillen, Eric Blackman, and Peggy Varniere revealed that the planet was likely smaller than most extra-solar planets discovered thus far—about the size of Neptune. The data also suggested that this planet is about the same distance from its parent star as our own Neptune is from the Sun. Most extra-solar planets discovered to date are much larger and orbit extremely close to their parent star.


The original Rochester team, led by Dan Watson, professor of physics and astronomy, used NASA’s new Spitzer Space Telescope to detect a gap in the dust surrounding a fledgling star. The critical infrared “eyes” of the infrared telescope were designed in part by physics and astronomy professors Judith Pipher, William Forrest, and Watson, a team that has been among the world leaders in opening the infrared window to the universe. It was Forrest and Pipher who were the first U.S. astronomers to turn an infrared array toward the skies: In 1983, they mounted a prototype infrared detector onto the University telescope in the small observatory on top of the Wilmot Building on campus, taking the first-ever telescopic pictures of the moon in the infrared, a wavelength range of light that is invisible to the naked eye as well as to most telescopes.

The discovered gap strongly signaled the presence of a planet. The dust in the disk is hotter in the center near the star and so radiates most of its light at shorter wavelengths than the cooler outer reaches of the disk. The research team found that there was an abrupt dearth of light radiating at all short infrared wavelengths, strongly suggesting that the central part of the disk was absent. Scientists know of only one phenomenon that can tunnel such a distinct “hole” in the disk during the short lifetime of the star—a planet at least 100,000 years old.

This possibility of a planet on the order of only 100,000 to half a million years old was met with skepticism by many astronomers because neither of the leading planetary formation models seemed to allow for a planet of this age. Two models represent the leading theories of planetary formation: core accretion and gravitational instability. Core accretion suggests that the dust from which the star and system form begins to clump together into granules, and those granules clump into rocks, asteroids, and planetoids until whole planets are formed. But the theory says it should take about 10 million years for a planet to evolve this way—far too long to account for the half-million-year-old planet found by Watson.

Conversely, the other leading theory of planetary formation, gravitational instability, suggests that whole planets could form essentially in one swoop as the original cloud of gas is pulled together by its own gravity and becomes a planet. But while this model suggests that planetary formation could happen much faster—on the order of centuries—the density of the dust disk surrounding the star seems to be too sparse to support this model either.

“Even though it doesn’t fit either model, we’ve crunched the numbers and shown that yes, in fact, that hole in that dust disk could have been formed by a planet,” says Frank. “Now we have to look at our models and figure out how that planet got there. At the end of it all, we hope we have a new model, and a new understanding of how planets come to be.”

This research was funded by the National Science Foundation.

Jonathan Sherwood | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.rochester.edu

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Exploring the mysteries of supercooled water
01.03.2017 | American Institute of Physics

nachricht Optical generation of ultrasound via photoacoustic effect
01.03.2017 | American Institute of Physics

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: Researchers Imitate Molecular Crowding in Cells

Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to simulate these confined natural conditions in artificial vesicles for the first time. As reported in the academic journal Small, the results are offering better insight into the development of nanoreactors and artificial organelles.

Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to...

Im Focus: Safe glide at total engine failure with ELA-inside

On January 15, 2009, Chesley B. Sullenberger was celebrated world-wide: after the two engines had failed due to bird strike, he and his flight crew succeeded after a glide flight with an Airbus A320 in ditching on the Hudson River. All 155 people on board were saved.

On January 15, 2009, Chesley B. Sullenberger was celebrated world-wide: after the two engines had failed due to bird strike, he and his flight crew succeeded...

Im Focus: Breakthrough with a chain of gold atoms

In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport

In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport

Im Focus: DNA repair: a new letter in the cell alphabet

Results reveal how discoveries may be hidden in scientific “blind spots”

Cells need to repair damaged DNA in our genes to prevent the development of cancer and other diseases. Our cells therefore activate and send “repair-proteins”...

Im Focus: Dresdner scientists print tomorrow’s world

The Fraunhofer IWS Dresden and Technische Universität Dresden inaugurated their jointly operated Center for Additive Manufacturing Dresden (AMCD) with a festive ceremony on February 7, 2017. Scientists from various disciplines perform research on materials, additive manufacturing processes and innovative technologies, which build up components in a layer by layer process. This technology opens up new horizons for component design and combinations of functions. For example during fabrication, electrical conductors and sensors are already able to be additively manufactured into components. They provide information about stress conditions of a product during operation.

The 3D-printing technology, or additive manufacturing as it is often called, has long made the step out of scientific research laboratories into industrial...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Booth and panel discussion – The Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings at the AAAS 2017 Annual Meeting

13.02.2017 | Event News

Complex Loading versus Hidden Reserves

10.02.2017 | Event News

International Conference on Crystal Growth in Freiburg

09.02.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

A better way to measure the stiffness of cancer cells

01.03.2017 | Health and Medicine

Exploring the mysteries of supercooled water

01.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Research team of the HAW Hamburg reanimated ancestral microbe from the depth of the earth

01.03.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>