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
Study offers new theoretical approach to describing non-equilibrium phase transitions
27.04.2017 | DOE/Argonne National Laboratory
SwRI-led team discovers lull in Mars' giant impact history
26.04.2017 | Southwest Research Institute
More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.
Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...
Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.
"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...
The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.
Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...
The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...
Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.
Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...
28.04.2017 | Event News
20.04.2017 | Event News
18.04.2017 | Event News
28.04.2017 | Medical Engineering
28.04.2017 | Earth Sciences
28.04.2017 | Life Sciences