Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

NASA's Spitzer Telescope Finds Planets Thrive Around Stellar Twins

30.03.2007
Our universe could be packed with worlds with two or more suns, University of Arizona Steward Observatory astronomers and their colleagues conclude from new research with NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. They will publish their findings in the Astrophysical Journal. Spitzer is flying UA Steward Observatory's multiband imaging photometer. The following release is forwarded from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory Media Relations Office in Pasadena, Calif. Contact information is listed at the end.

The double sunset that Luke Skywalker gazed upon in the film "Star Wars" might not be a fantasy.

Astronomers using NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope have observed that planetary systems ­ dusty disks of asteroids, comets and possibly planets ­ are at least as abundant in twin-star systems as they are in those, like our own, with only one star. Since more than half of all stars are twins, or binaries, the finding suggests the universe is packed with planets that have two suns. Sunsets on some of those worlds would resemble the ones on Luke Skywalker's planet, Tatooine, where two fiery balls dip below the horizon one by one.

"There appears to be no bias against having planetary system formation in binary systems," said David Trilling of the University of Arizona, Tucson, lead author of a new paper about the research appearing in the April 1 issue of the Astrophysical Journal. "There could be countless planets out there with two or more suns."

Previously, astronomers knew that planets could form in exceptionally wide binary systems, in which stars are 1,000 times farther apart than the distance between Earth and the sun, or 1,000 astronomical units. Of the approximately 200 planets discovered so far outside our solar system, about 50 orbit one member of a wide stellar duo.

The new Spitzer study focuses on binary stars that are a bit more snug, with separation distances between zero and 500 astronomical units. Until now, not much was known about whether the close proximity of stars like these might affect the growth of planets. Standard planet-hunting techniques generally don't work well with these stars, but, in 2005, a NASA-funded astronomer found evidence for a planet candidate in one such multiple-star system (http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.cfm?release=2005-115).

Trilling and his colleagues used Spitzer's infrared, heat-seeking eyes to look not for planets, but for dusty disks in double-star systems. These so-called debris disks are made up of asteroid-like bits of leftover rock that never made it into rocky planets. Their presence indicates that the process of building planets has occurred around a star, or stars, possibly resulting in intact, mature planets.

In the most comprehensive survey of its kind, the team looked for disks in 69 binary systems between about 50 and 200 light-years away from Earth. All of the stars are somewhat younger and more massive than our middle-aged sun. The data show that about 40 percent of the systems had disks, which is a bit higher than the frequency for a comparable sample of single stars. This means that planetary systems are at least as common around binary stars as they are around single stars.

In addition, the astronomers were shocked to find that disks were even more frequent (about 60 percent) around the tightest binaries in the study. These coziest of stellar companions are between zero and three astronomical units apart. Spitzer detected disks orbiting both members of the star pairs, rather than just one. Extra-tight star systems like these are where planets, if they are present, would experience Tatooine-like sunsets.

"We were very surprised to find that the tight group had more disks," said Trilling. "This could mean that planet formation favors tight binaries over single stars, but it could also mean tight binaries are just dustier. Future observations should provide a better answer."

The Spitzer data also reveal that not all binary systems are friendly places for planets to form. The telescope detected far fewer disks altogether in intermediately spaced binary systems, between three to 50 astronomical units apart. This implies that stars may have to be either very close to each other, or fairly far apart, for planets to arise.

"For a planet in a binary system, location is everything," said co-author Karl Stapelfeldt of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

"Binary systems were largely ignored before," added Trilling. "They are more difficult to study, but they might be the most common sites for planet formation in our galaxy."

Other authors on the paper include: John Stansberry, George Rieke and Kate Su of the University of Arizona; Richard Gray of the Appalachian State University, Boone, N.C.; Chris Corbally of the Vatican Observatory, Tucson; Geoff Bryden, Andy Boden and Charles Beichman of JPL; and Christine Chen of the National Optical Astronomical Observatory, Tucson.

JPL manages Spitzer for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Science operations are conducted at the Spitzer Science Center at the California Institute of Technology, also in Pasadena. The multiband imaging photometer for Spitzer was built by Ball Aerospace Corporation, Boulder, Colo.; the University of Arizona; and Boeing North American, Canoga Park, Calif. Co-author Rieke is the principal investigator.

For more information and graphics, visit www.spitzer.caltech.edu/Media and http://www.nasa.gov/spitzer .

Lori Stiles | University of Arizona
Further information:
http://www.spitzer.caltech.edu/Media
http://www.nasa.gov/spitzer

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Extremely fine measurements of motion in orbiting supermassive black holes
28.06.2017 | Stanford University

nachricht Ultra-compact phase modulators based on graphene plasmons
27.06.2017 | ICFO-The Institute of Photonic Sciences

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: Can we see monkeys from space? Emerging technologies to map biodiversity

An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.

Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...

Im Focus: Climate satellite: Tracking methane with robust laser technology

Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.

Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...

Im Focus: How protons move through a fuel cell

Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.

As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...

Im Focus: A unique data centre for cosmological simulations

Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.

With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...

Im Focus: Scientists develop molecular thermometer for contactless measurement using infrared light

Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine

Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Plants are networkers

19.06.2017 | Event News

Digital Survival Training for Executives

13.06.2017 | Event News

Global Learning Council Summit 2017

13.06.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Extensive Funding for Research on Chromatin, Adrenal Gland, and Cancer Therapy

28.06.2017 | Awards Funding

Predicting eruptions using satellites and math

28.06.2017 | Earth Sciences

Extremely fine measurements of motion in orbiting supermassive black holes

28.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>