With the VISIR instrument on ESO's Very Large Telescope, astronomers have mapped the disc around a star more massive than the Sun. The very extended and flared disc most likely contains enough gas and dust to spawn planets. It appears as a precursor of debris discs such as the one around Vega-like stars and thus provides the rare opportunity to witness the conditions prevailing prior to or during planet formation.
"Planets form in massive, gaseous and dusty proto-planetary discs that surround nascent stars. This process must be rather ubiquitous as more than 200 planets have now been found around stars other than the Sun," said Pierre-Olivier Lagage, from CEA Saclay (France) and leader of the team that carried out the observations. "However, very little is known about these discs, especially those around stars more massive than the Sun. Such stars are much more luminous and could have a large influence on their disc, possibly quickly destroying the inner part."
The astronomers used the VISIR instrument  on ESO's Very Large Telescope to map in the infrared the disc surrounding the young star HD 97048. With an age of a few million years , HD 97048 belongs to the Chameleon I dark cloud, a stellar nursery 600 light-years away. The star is 40 times more luminous than our Sun and is 2.5 times as massive.
The astronomers could only have achieved such a detailed view due to the high angular resolution offered by an 8-metre size telescope in the infrared, reaching a resolution of 0.33 arcsecond. They discovered a very large disc, at least 12 times more extended than the orbit of the farthest planet in the Solar System, Neptune. The observations suggest the disc to be flared. "This is the first time such a structure, predicted by some theoretical models, is imaged around a massive star," said Lagage.
Such a geometry can only be explained if the disc contains a large amount of gas, in this case, at least as much as 10 times the mass of Jupiter. It should also contain more than 50 Earth masses in dust.
The dust mass derived here is more than thousand times larger than what is observed in debris discs and Kuiper belt-like structures found around older, 'Vega-like' stars, such as Beta Pictoris, Vega, Fomalhaut and HR 4796. The dust around these stars is thought to be produced by collisions of larger bodies. The dust mass observed around HD 97048 is similar to the mass invoked for the (undetected) parent bodies in the more evolved systems. HD 97048's disc is thus most likely a precursor of debris discs observed around older stars.
"From the structure of the disc, we infer that planetary embryos may be present in the inner part of the disc," said Lagage. "We are planning follow-up observations at higher angular resolution with ESO's VLT interferometer in order to probe these regions.‚"
 VISIR - the VLT Imager and Spectrometer for the InfraRed - is a complex multi-mode instrument designed to operate in the 10 and 20 microns atmospheric windows, i.e. at wavelengths up to about 40 times longer than visible light and to provide images as well as spectra at a wide range of resolving power up to ~ 30 000. It can sample images down to the diffraction limit of the 8.2-m Melipal telescope (0.3 arcsec at 10 microns wavelength, i.e. corresponding to a resolution of 500 m on the Moon). VISIR was built by CEA/DSM/DAPNIA, Saclay, France, with Pierre-Olivier Lagage as the Principal Investigator (PI), and the Netherlands Foundation for Research in Astronomy/ASTRON (Dwingeloo, The Netherlands) with Jan-Willem Pel from Groningen University as Co-PI for the spectrometer. For more information, see ESO PR 13/04.
 By comparison, the Sun is about 4.6 billion years old. Translated to a human timescale, these young stars would be just 3 days old, compared to the Sun's 40 years.
Henri Boffin | alfa
Shape matters when light meets atom
05.12.2016 | Centre for Quantum Technologies at the National University of Singapore
Climate cycles may explain how running water carved Mars' surface features
02.12.2016 | Penn State
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,...
Broadband rotational spectroscopy unravels structural reshaping of isolated molecules in the gas phase to accommodate water
In two recent publications in the Journal of Chemical Physics and in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, researchers around Melanie Schnell from the Max...
16.11.2016 | Event News
01.11.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
06.12.2016 | Health and Medicine
06.12.2016 | Life Sciences
05.12.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering