Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Sculpting solar systems

09.11.2016

ESO's SPHERE instrument reveals protoplanetary discs being shaped by newborn planets

Three teams of astronomers have made use of SPHERE, an advanced exoplanet-hunting instrument on the Very Large Telescope (VLT - http://www.eso.org/public/teles-instr/paranal/) at ESO's Paranal Observatory, in order to shed light on the enigmatic evolution of fledgling planetary systems. The explosion in the number of known exoplanets in recent years has made the study of them one of the most dynamic fields in modern astronomy.


These three planetary discs have been observed with the SPHERE instrument, mounted on ESO's Very Large Telescope. The observations were made in order to shed light on the enigmatic evolution of fledgling planetary systems. The central parts of the images appear dark because SPHERE blocks out the light from the brilliant central stars to reveal the much fainter structures surrounding them.

Credit: ESO

Today it is known that planets form from vast discs of gas and dust encircling newborn stars, known as protoplanetary discs. These can extend for thousands of millions of kilometres. Over time, the particles in these protoplanetary discs collide, combine and eventually build up into planet-sized bodies. However, the finer details of the evolution of these planet-forming discs remain mysterious.

SPHERE is a recent addition to the VLT's array of instruments and with its combination of novel technologies, it provides a powerful method to directly image the fine details of protoplanetary discs [1]. The interaction between protoplanetary discs and growing planets can shape the discs into various forms: vast rings, spiral arms or shadowed voids. These are of special interest as an unambiguous link between these structures and the sculpting planets is yet to be found; a mystery astronomers are keen to solve. Fortunately, SPHERE's specialised capabilities make it possible for research teams to observe these striking features of protoplanetary discs directly.

For example, RX J1615 is a young star, which lies in the constellation of Scorpius, 600 light-years from Earth. A team led by the Jos de Boer, of Leiden Observatory in the Netherlands, found a complex system of concentric rings surrounding the young star, forming a shape resembling a titanic version of the rings that encircle Saturn. Such an intricate sculpting of rings in a protoplanetary disc has only been imaged a handful of times before, and even more excitingly, the entire system seems to be only 1.8 million years old. The disc shows hints of being shaped by planets still in the process of formation.

The age of the newly detected protoplanetary disc makes RX J1615 an outstanding system, as most other examples of protoplanetary discs detected so far are relatively old or evolved. De Boer's unexpected result was quickly echoed by the findings of a team led by Christian Ginski, also of Leiden Observatory. They observed the young star HD 97048, located in the constellation of Chamaeleon, about 500 light-years from Earth. Through painstaking analysis, they found that the juvenile disc around this star has also formed into concentric rings. The symmetry of these two systems is a surprising result, as most protoplanetary systems contain a multitude of asymmetrical spiral arms, voids and vortexes. These discoveries significantly raise the number of known systems with multiple highly symmetrical rings.

A particularly spectacular example of the more common asymmetric disc was captured by a group of astronomers led by Tomas Stolker of the Anton Pannekoek Institute for Astronomy, the Netherlands. This disc surrounds the star HD 135344B, about 450 light-years away. Although this star has been well-studied in the past, SPHERE allowed the team to see the star's protoplanetary disc in more detail than ever before. The large central cavity and two prominent spiral arm-like structures are thought to have been created by one or multiple massive protoplanets, destined to become Jupiter-like worlds.

In addition, four dark streaks, apparently shadows thrown by the movement of material within HD 135344B's disc, were observed. Remarkably, one of the streaks noticeably changed in the months between observing periods: a rare example of observing planetary evolution occur in real time, hinting at changes occurring in the inner disc regions that can not be directly detected by SPHERE. As well as producing beautiful images, these flickering shadows provide a unique way of probing the dynamics of innermost disc regions.

As with the concentric rings found by de Boer and Ginski, these observations by Stolker's team prove that the complex and changing environment of the discs surrounding young stars are still capable of producing surprising new discoveries. By building an impressive body of knowledge about these protoplanetary discs, these teams are stepping closer to understanding how planets shape the discs that form them -- and therefore understanding planet formation itself.

###

Notes

[1] SPHERE had first light in June 2014. The instrument uses advanced adaptive optics SPHERE had first light in June 2014 to remove atmospheric distortion, a coronagraph to block most of the light from the central star and a combination of differential imaging and polarimetry to isolate the light from features in the disc.

More information

The research of de Boer, Ginski and Stolker and their colleagues in the SPHERE consortium is now accepted for publication in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics. Their papers are entitled: "Direct detection of scattered light gaps in the transitional disk around HD 97048 with VLT/SPHERE"; "Shadows cast on the transition disk of HD 135344B: Multi-wavelength VLT/SPHERE polarimetric differential imaging", and "Multiple rings in the transition disk and companion candidates around RX J1615.3-3255: High contrast imaging with VLT/SPHERE". All three of papers have been created in the framework of the SPHERE GTO program, led by Carsten Dominik, University of Amsterdam.

ESO is the foremost intergovernmental astronomy organisation in Europe and the world's most productive ground-based astronomical observatory by far. It is supported by 16 countries: Austria, Belgium, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, along with the host state of Chile. ESO carries out an ambitious programme focused on the design, construction and operation of powerful ground-based observing facilities enabling astronomers to make important scientific discoveries. ESO also plays a leading role in promoting and organising cooperation in astronomical research. ESO operates three unique world-class observing sites in Chile: La Silla, Paranal and Chajnantor. At Paranal, ESO operates the Very Large Telescope, the world's most advanced visible-light astronomical observatory and two survey telescopes. VISTA works in the infrared and is the world's largest survey telescope and the VLT Survey Telescope is the largest telescope designed to exclusively survey the skies in visible light. ESO is a major partner in ALMA, the largest astronomical project in existence. And on Cerro Armazones, close to Paranal, ESO is building the 39-metre European Extremely Large Telescope, the E-ELT, which will become "the world's biggest eye on the sky".

Links

* Research paper by Jos de Boer et al. - http://www.eso.org/public/archives/releases/sciencepapers/eso1640/eso1640a.pdf

* Research paper by Christian Ginski et al. - http://www.eso.org/public/archives/releases/sciencepapers/eso1640/eso1640b.pdf

* Research paper by Tomas Stolker et al. - http://www.eso.org/public/archives/releases/sciencepapers/eso1640/eso1640c.pdf

Contacts

Tomas Stolker
Anton Pannekoek Institute for Astronomy
Amsterdam, the Netherlands
Tel: +3120525 8152
Email: T.Stolker@uva.nl

Jos de Boer
Leiden University
Leiden, the Netherlands
Tel: +31715278139
Email: deboer@strw.leidenuniv.nl

Christian Ginski
Leiden University
Leiden, the Netherlands
Tel: +31715278139
Email: ginski@strw.leidenuniv.nl

Richard Hook
ESO Public Information Officer
Garching bei München, Germany
Tel: +49 89 3200 6655
Cell: +49 151 1537 3591
Email: rhook@eso.org

Richard Hook | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.eso.org

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht NASA detects solar flare pulses at Sun and Earth
17.11.2017 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

nachricht Pluto's hydrocarbon haze keeps dwarf planet colder than expected
16.11.2017 | University of California - Santa Cruz

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 “cosmic snake” reveals the structure of remote galaxies

The formation of stars in distant galaxies is still largely unexplored. For the first time, astron-omers at the University of Geneva have now been able to closely observe a star system six billion light-years away. In doing so, they are confirming earlier simulations made by the University of Zurich. One special effect is made possible by the multiple reflections of images that run through the cosmos like a snake.

Today, astronomers have a pretty accurate idea of how stars were formed in the recent cosmic past. But do these laws also apply to older galaxies? For around a...

Im Focus: Visual intelligence is not the same as IQ

Just because someone is smart and well-motivated doesn't mean he or she can learn the visual skills needed to excel at tasks like matching fingerprints, interpreting medical X-rays, keeping track of aircraft on radar displays or forensic face matching.

That is the implication of a new study which shows for the first time that there is a broad range of differences in people's visual ability and that these...

Im Focus: Novel Nano-CT device creates high-resolution 3D-X-rays of tiny velvet worm legs

Computer Tomography (CT) is a standard procedure in hospitals, but so far, the technology has not been suitable for imaging extremely small objects. In PNAS, a team from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) describes a Nano-CT device that creates three-dimensional x-ray images at resolutions up to 100 nanometers. The first test application: Together with colleagues from the University of Kassel and Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht the researchers analyzed the locomotory system of a velvet worm.

During a CT analysis, the object under investigation is x-rayed and a detector measures the respective amount of radiation absorbed from various angles....

Im Focus: Researchers Develop Data Bus for Quantum Computer

The quantum world is fragile; error correction codes are needed to protect the information stored in a quantum object from the deteriorating effects of noise. Quantum physicists in Innsbruck have developed a protocol to pass quantum information between differently encoded building blocks of a future quantum computer, such as processors and memories. Scientists may use this protocol in the future to build a data bus for quantum computers. The researchers have published their work in the journal Nature Communications.

Future quantum computers will be able to solve problems where conventional computers fail today. We are still far away from any large-scale implementation,...

Im Focus: Wrinkles give heat a jolt in pillared graphene

Rice University researchers test 3-D carbon nanostructures' thermal transport abilities

Pillared graphene would transfer heat better if the theoretical material had a few asymmetric junctions that caused wrinkles, according to Rice University...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Ecology Across Borders: International conference brings together 1,500 ecologists

15.11.2017 | Event News

Road into laboratory: Users discuss biaxial fatigue-testing for car and truck wheel

15.11.2017 | Event News

#Berlin5GWeek: The right network for Industry 4.0

30.10.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

NASA detects solar flare pulses at Sun and Earth

17.11.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

NIST scientists discover how to switch liver cancer cell growth from 2-D to 3-D structures

17.11.2017 | Health and Medicine

The importance of biodiversity in forests could increase due to climate change

17.11.2017 | Studies and Analyses

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>