Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Water signature in distant planet shows clues to its formation, Lawrence Livermore research finds

15.03.2013
A team of international scientists including a Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory astrophysicist has made the most detailed examination yet of the atmosphere of a Jupiter-size like planet beyond our solar system.

The finding provides astrophysicists with additional insight into how planets are formed.


Artist's rendering of the planetary system HR 8799 at an early stage in its evolution, showing the planet HR 8799c, a disk of gas and dust, and interior planets. Image courtesy of Dunlap Institute for Astronomy & Astrophysics; Mediafarm.

"This is the sharpest spectrum ever obtained of an extrasolar planet," said co-author Bruce Macintosh, an astronomer at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. "This shows the power of directly imaging a planetary system -- the exquisite resolution afforded by these new observations has allowed us to really begin to probe planet formation."

According to lead author Quinn Konopacky, an astronomer with the Dunlap Institute for Astronomy & Astrophysics, University of Toronto and a former LLNL postdoc: "We have been able to observe this planet in unprecedented detail because of Keck Obervatory's advanced instrumentation, our ground-breaking observing and data processing techniques, and because of the nature of the planetary system." The paper appears online March 14 in Science Express and in the March 21 edition of the journal, Science.

The team, using the OSIRIS instrument on the Keck II telescope on the summit of Mauna Kea, Hawaii, has uncovered the chemical fingerprints of specific molecules, revealing a cloudy atmosphere containing water vapor and carbon monoxide. "With this level of detail," says co-author Travis Barman, an astronomer at the Lowell Observatory, "we can compare the amount of carbon to the amount of oxygen present in the atmosphere, and this chemical mix provides clues as to how the planetary system formed."

The team, using the OSIRIS instrument on the Keck II telescope on the summit of Mauna Kea, Hawaii, has uncovered the chemical fingerprints of specific molecules, revealing a cloudy atmosphere containing water vapor and carbon monoxide. "With this level of detail," says co-author Travis Barman, an astronomer at the Lowell Observatory, "we can compare the amount of carbon to the amount of oxygen present in the atmosphere, and this chemical mix provides clues as to how the planetary system formed."

There has been uncertainty about how planets in other solar systems formed, with two leading models, called core accretion and gravitational instability. When stars form, they are surrounded by a planet-forming disk. In the first scenario, planets form gradually as solid cores slowly grow big enough to start absorbing gas from the disk. In the latter, planets form almost instantly as parts of the disk collapses on itself. Planetary properties, such as the composition of a planet's atmosphere, are clues as to whether a system formed according to one model or the other.

Although the planet's atmosphere shows clear evidence of water vapor, that signature is weaker than would be expected if the planet shared the composition of its parent star. Instead, the planet has a high ratio of carbon to oxygen -- a fingerprint of its formation in the gaseous disk tens of millions of years ago. As the gas cooled with time, grains of water ice form, depleting the remaining gas of oxygen. Planetary formation began when ice and solids collected into planetary cores -- very similar to how our solar system formed.

"Once the solid cores grew large enough, their gravity quickly attracted surrounding gas to become the massive planets we see today," said Konopacky. "Since that gas had lost some of its oxygen, the planet ends up with less oxygen and less water than if it had formed through a gravitational instability."

The planet is one of four gas giants known to orbit a star called HR 8799, 130 light-years from Earth. The authors and their collaborators previously discovered this planet, designated HR 8799c, and its three companions back in 2008 and 2010. Unlike most other planetary systems, whose presence is inferred by their effects on their parent star, the HR8799 planets can be individually seen.

"We can directly image the planets around HR 8799 because they are all large, young, and very far from their parent star. This makes the system an excellent laboratory for studying exoplanet atmospheres," said coauthor Christian Marois, an astronomer at the National Research Council of Canada and another former LLNL postdoc. "Since its discovery, this system just keeps on surprising us."

Although the planet does have water vapor, it's incredibly hostile to life -- like Jupiter, it has no solid surface, and it has a temperature of more than a thousand degrees Fahrenheit as it glows with the energy of its original formation. Still, this discovery provides clues as to the possibility of other Earthlike planets in other solar systems. "The fact that the HR 8799 giant planets may have formed the same way our own giant planets did is a good sign -- that same process also made the rocky planets close to the sun," Macintosh said.

The research is funded by Livermore's Laboratory Directed Research and Development program. LLNL is leading the construction of a new planet-finding instrument for the Gemini South telescope in Chile, known as the Gemini Planet Imager (GPI). Designed from the ground up for exoplanet detection, GPI (and similar new instruments at the Palomar and European Southern Observatories) will be capable of seeing planets that are much older, smaller and fainter than the HR-8799 giants. "GPI is the next big step in this field," said Macintosh, the principal investigator for the project. "It will be an order of magnitude more sensitive than we are now."

Simulations predict that a large-scale GPI survey should discover dozens of new exoplanets. By studying planets at different stages of their evolution, the GPI science team will further chip away at the puzzle of how planets form. GPI is currently undergoing final testing at UC Santa Cruz and will ship to Chile later in the year.

The W. M. Keck Observatory operates the largest, most scientifically productive telescopes on Earth. The two, 10-meter optical/infrared telescopes on the summit of Mauna Kea on the Island of Hawaii feature a suite of advanced instruments including imagers, multi-object spectrographs, high-resolution spectrographs, integral-field spectroscopy and a world-leading laser guide star adaptive optics system. The Observatory is a private 501(c) 3 non-profit organization and a scientific partnership of the California Institute of Technology, the University of California and NASA.

More Information

Dunlap Institute for Astronomy & Astrophysics, University of Toronto

National Research Council of Canada, W. M. Keck Observatory
Steve Jefferson, Communications Officer, Phone (808) 881-3827, E-mail: sjefferson@keck.hawaii.edu

"A Spectra-Tacular Sight," Science & Technology Review, July/August 2012

'Astronomers capture first images of newly-discovered solar system,' LLNL news release, Nov. 13, 2008

"Direct Imaging of Multiple Planets Orbiting the Star HR 8799," Science Express, Nov. 13, 2008.

Founded in 1952, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory provides solutions to our nation's most important national security challenges through innovative science, engineering and technology. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is managed by Lawrence Livermore National Security, LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration.

Anne Stark | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.llnl.gov
http://www.llnl.gov/news/newsreleases/2013/Mar/NR-13-03-04.html

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht SwRI-led team discovers lull in Mars' giant impact history
26.04.2017 | Southwest Research Institute

nachricht New survey hints at exotic origin for the Cold Spot
26.04.2017 | Royal Astronomical Society

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: Making lightweight construction suitable for series production

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...

Im Focus: Wonder material? Novel nanotube structure strengthens thin films for flexible electronics

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...

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

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...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

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...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

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...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

7th International Conference on Crystalline Silicon Photovoltaics in Freiburg on April 3-5, 2017

03.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Scientist invents way to trigger artificial photosynthesis to clean air

26.04.2017 | Materials Sciences

Ammonium nitrogen input increases the synthesis of anticarcinogenic compounds in broccoli

26.04.2017 | Agricultural and Forestry Science

SwRI-led team discovers lull in Mars' giant impact history

26.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>