Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

APL Astronomer Spies Conditions 'Just Right' for Building an Earth

05.10.2007
An Earth-like planet is likely forming 424 light-years away in a star system called HD 113766, say astronomers using NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope.

Scientists have discovered a huge belt of warm dust – enough to build a Mars-size planet or larger – swirling around a distant star that is just slightly more massive than our sun. The dust belt, which they suspect is clumping together into planets, is located in the middle of the system's terrestrial habitable zone. This is the region around a star where liquid water could exist on any rocky planets that might form. Earth is located in the middle of our sun's terrestrial habitable zone.

At approximately 10 million years old, the star is also at just the right age for forming rocky planets.

"The timing for this system to be building an Earth is very good," says Dr. Carey Lisse, of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, Md. "If the system was too young, its planet-forming disk would be full of gas, and it would be making gas-giant planets like Jupiter instead. If the system was too old, then dust aggregation or clumping would have already occurred and all the system's rocky planets would have already formed."

According to Lisse, the conditions for forming an Earth-like planet are more than just being in the right place at the right time and around the right star – it's also about the right mix of dusty materials.

Using Spitzer's infrared spectrometer instrument, he determined that the material in HD 113766 is more processed than the snowball-like stuff that makes up infant solar systems and comets, which are considered cosmic "refrigerators" because they contain pristine ingredients from the early solar system. However, it is also not as processed as the stuff found in mature planets and the largest asteroids. This means the dust belt must be in a transitional phase, when rocky planets are just beginning to form.

How do scientists know the material is more processed than that of comets? From missions like NASA's Deep Impact – in which an 820-pound impactor spacecraft collided with comet Tempel 1 – scientists know that early star systems contain a lot of fragile organic material. That material includes polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (carbon-based molecules found on charred barbeque grills and automobile exhaust on Earth), water ice, and carbonates (chalk). Lisse says that HD 113766 does not contain any water ice, carbonates or fragile organic materials.

From meteorite studies on Earth, scientists also have a good idea of what makes up asteroids – the more processed rocky leftovers of planet formation. These studies tell us that metals began separating from rocks in Earth's early days, when the planet's body was completely molten. During this time, almost all the heavy metals fell to Earth's center in a process called "differentiation." Lisse says that, unlike planets and asteroids, the metals in HD 113766 have not totally separated from the rocky material, suggesting that rocky planets have not yet formed.

"The material mix in this belt is most reminiscent of the stuff found in lava flows on Earth. I thought of Mauna Kea material when I first saw the dust composition in this system – it contains raw rock and is abundant in iron sulfides, which are similar to fool's gold," says Lisse, referring to a well-known Hawaiian volcano.

"It is fantastic to think we are able to detect the process of terrestrial planet formation. Stay tuned — I expect lots more fireworks as the planet in HD113766 grows," he adds.

Lisse has written a paper (Click here to read Lisse's paper, Circumstellar Dust Created by Terrestrial Planet Formation in HD 113766) on his research that will be published in an upcoming issue of Astrophysical Journal; he will also present his findings next week at the American Astronomical Society Division for Planetary Sciences meeting in Orlando, Fla. Lisse's research was funded through a Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory Stuart S. Janney Fellowship and a Spitzer Space Telescope guest observer grant.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., manages the Spitzer Space Telescope mission 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. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

The University of Maryland is responsible for overall Deep Impact mission science, and project management is handled by JPL.

Michael Buckley | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.jhuapl.edu

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht NASA laser communications to provide Orion faster connections
30.03.2017 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

nachricht Pinball at the atomic level
30.03.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für Struktur und Dynamik der Materie

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: A Challenging European Research Project to Develop New Tiny Microscopes

The Institute of Semiconductor Technology and the Institute of Physical and Theoretical Chemistry, both members of the Laboratory for Emerging Nanometrology (LENA), at Technische Universität Braunschweig are partners in a new European research project entitled ChipScope, which aims to develop a completely new and extremely small optical microscope capable of observing the interior of living cells in real time. A consortium of 7 partners from 5 countries will tackle this issue with very ambitious objectives during a four-year research program.

To demonstrate the usefulness of this new scientific tool, at the end of the project the developed chip-sized microscope will be used to observe in real-time...

Im Focus: Giant Magnetic Fields in the Universe

Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.

The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.

Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...

Im Focus: Tracing down linear ubiquitination

Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.

Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...

Im Focus: Perovskite edges can be tuned for optoelectronic performance

Layered 2D material improves efficiency for solar cells and LEDs

In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...

Im Focus: Polymer-coated silicon nanosheets as alternative to graphene: A perfect team for nanoelectronics

Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.

Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

International Land Use Symposium ILUS 2017: Call for Abstracts and Registration open

20.03.2017 | Event News

CONNECT 2017: International congress on connective tissue

14.03.2017 | Event News

ICTM Conference: Turbine Construction between Big Data and Additive Manufacturing

07.03.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

'On-off switch' brings researchers a step closer to potential HIV vaccine

30.03.2017 | Health and Medicine

Penn studies find promise for innovations in liquid biopsies

30.03.2017 | Health and Medicine

An LED-based device for imaging radiation induced skin damage

30.03.2017 | Medical Engineering

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>