Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Popular Solar System Orbits Result in 'Planet Pileups'

20.03.2012
In young solar systems emerging around baby stars, some orbits are more popular than others, resulting in "planet pileups" and "planet deserts."

Computer simulations have revealed a plausible explanation for a phenomenon that has puzzled astronomers: Rather than occupying orbits at regular distances from a star, giant gas planets similar to Jupiter and Saturn appear to prefer to occupy certain regions in mature solar systems while staying clear of others.

"Our results show that the final distribution of planets does not vary smoothly with distance from the star, but instead has clear Œdeserts' ­ deficits of planets ­ and Œpileups' of planets at particular locations,"

said Ilaria Pascucci, an assistant professor at the University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory.

"Our models offer a plausible explanation for the pileups of giant planets observed recently detected in exoplanet surveys," said Richard Alexander of the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom.

Alexander and Pascucci identified high-energy radiation from baby sun-like stars as the likely force that carves gaps in protoplanetary disks, the clouds of gas and dust that swirl around young stars and provide the raw materials for planets. The gaps then act as barricades, corralling planets into certain orbits.

The exact locations of those gaps depend on the planets' mass, but they generally occur in an area between 1 and 2 astronomical units from the star. One astronomical unit, or AU, marks the average distance from the Earth to the sun. The findings are to be published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

According to conventional wisdom, a solar system starts out from a cloud of gas and dust. At the center of the prospective solar system, material clumps together, forming a young star. As the baby star grows, its gravitational force grows as well, and it attracts dust and gas from the surrounding cloud.

Accelerated by the growing gravitation of its star, the cloud spins faster and faster, and eventually flattens into what is called a protoplanetary disk. Once the bulk of the star's mass has formed, it is still fed material by its protoplanetary disk, but at a much lower rate.

"For a long time, it was assumed that the process of accreting material from the disk onto the star was enough to explain the thinning of the protoplanetary disk over time," Pascucci explained. "Our new results suggest that there is another process at work that takes material out of the disk."

Pascucci presented the findings at the 43rd Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in The Woodlands, Texas on March 19.

That process, called photo-evaporation, works by high-energy photons streaming out of the star and heating the dust and gas on the surface of the protoplanetary disk.

"The disk material that is very close to the star is very hot, but it is held in place by the star's strong gravity," Alexander said. "Further out in the disk where gravity is much weaker, the heated gas evaporates into space."

Even further out in the disk, the radiation emanating from the star is not intense enough to heat the gas sufficiently to cause much evaporation. But at a distance between 1 and 2 AU, the balancing effects of gravitation and heat clear a gap, the researchers found.

While studying protoplanetary disks, Pascucci found that gas on the surface of the disk was gravitationally unbound and leaving the disk system via photoevaporation, as Alexander had previously predicted. "These were the first observations proving that photoevaporation does occur in real systems," she said.

Encouraged by those findings, Alexander and Pascucci then used the ALICE High Performance Computing Facility at the University of Leicester to simulate protoplanetary discs undergoing accretion of material to the central star that took the effects of photo-evaporation into account.

"We don't yet know exactly where and when planets form around young stars, so our models considered developing solar systems with various combinations of giant planets at different locations and different stages in time," Alexander said.

The experiments revealed that just as observations of real solar systems have shown, giant planets migrate inward before they finally settle on a stable orbit around their star. This happens because as the star draws in material from the protoplanetary disk, the planets are dragged along, like a celebrity caught in a crowd of fans.

However, the researchers discovered that once a giant planet encounters a gap cleared by photo-evaporation, it stays put.

"The planets either stop right before or behind the gap, creating a pile-up," Pascucci said. "The local concentration of planets leaves behind regions elsewhere in the disk that are devoid of any planets. This uneven distribution is exactly what we see in many newly discovered solar systems."

Once surveys for discovering extrasolar planet systems such as the Kepler Space Telescope project become more sensitive to outer giant planets, Alexander and Pascucci expect to find more and more evidence for the pileup of giant planets around 1 AU.

Pascucci said. "As we discover more exoplanets, we will be able to test these predictions in detail and learn more about the conditions under which planets form."

The research was funded by the National Science Foundation and the UK's Science & Technology Facilities Council.

LINKS:

The scientific article, "Deserts and pile-ups in the distribution of exoplanets due to photoevaporative disc clearing," is available at

http://arxiv.org/abs/1202.5554

The University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Laboratory:
http://www.lpl.arizona.edu
43rd Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, The Woodlands, Texas:
http://www.lpi.usra.edu/meetings/lpsc2012
CONTACTS:
Ilaria Pascucci
UA Lunar and Planetary Laboratory
520-626-5373
pascucci@lpl.arizona.edu
Richard Alexander
University of Leicester
richard.alexander@leicester.ac.uk
Daniel Stolte
University Communications
The University of Arizona
520-626-4402
stolte@email.arizona.edu

Daniel Stolte | University of Arizona
Further information:
http://www.arizona.edu

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Typhoon changed earthquake patterns
03.07.2020 | GFZ GeoForschungsZentrum Potsdam, Helmholtz Centre

nachricht Groundwater protection on Spiekeroog Island - first installation of a salt water monitoring system
01.07.2020 | Leibniz-Institut für Angewandte Geophysik (LIAG)

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Electrons in the fast lane

Solar cells based on perovskite compounds could soon make electricity generation from sunlight even more efficient and cheaper. The laboratory efficiency of these perovskite solar cells already exceeds that of the well-known silicon solar cells. An international team led by Stefan Weber from the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research (MPI-P) in Mainz has found microscopic structures in perovskite crystals that can guide the charge transport in the solar cell. Clever alignment of these "electron highways" could make perovskite solar cells even more powerful.

Solar cells convert sunlight into electricity. During this process, the electrons of the material inside the cell absorb the energy of the light....

Im Focus: The lightest electromagnetic shielding material in the world

Empa researchers have succeeded in applying aerogels to microelectronics: Aerogels based on cellulose nanofibers can effectively shield electromagnetic radiation over a wide frequency range – and they are unrivalled in terms of weight.

Electric motors and electronic devices generate electromagnetic fields that sometimes have to be shielded in order not to affect neighboring electronic...

Im Focus: Gentle wall contact – the right scenario for a fusion power plant

Quasi-continuous power exhaust developed as a wall-friendly method on ASDEX Upgrade

A promising operating mode for the plasma of a future power plant has been developed at the ASDEX Upgrade fusion device at Max Planck Institute for Plasma...

Im Focus: ILA Goes Digital – Automation & Production Technology for Adaptable Aircraft Production

Live event – July 1, 2020 - 11:00 to 11:45 (CET)
"Automation in Aerospace Industry @ Fraunhofer IFAM"

The Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Technology and Advanced Materials IFAM l Stade is presenting its forward-looking R&D portfolio for the first time at...

Im Focus: AI monitoring of laser welding processes - X-ray vision and eavesdropping ensure quality

With an X-ray experiment at the European Synchrotron ESRF in Grenoble (France), Empa researchers were able to demonstrate how well their real-time acoustic monitoring of laser weld seams works. With almost 90 percent reliability, they detected the formation of unwanted pores that impair the quality of weld seams. Thanks to a special evaluation method based on artificial intelligence (AI), the detection process is completed in just 70 milliseconds.

Laser welding is a process suitable for joining metals and thermoplastics. It has become particularly well established in highly automated production, for...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

International conference QuApps shows status quo of quantum technology

02.07.2020 | Event News

Dresden Nexus Conference 2020: Same Time, Virtual Format, Registration Opened

19.05.2020 | Event News

Aachen Machine Tool Colloquium AWK'21 will take place on June 10 and 11, 2021

07.04.2020 | Event News

 
Latest News

Rising water temperatures could endanger the mating of many fish species

03.07.2020 | Life Sciences

Risk of infection with COVID-19 from singing: First results of aerosol study with the Bavarian Radio Chorus

03.07.2020 | Studies and Analyses

Efficient, Economical and Aesthetic: Researchers Build Electrodes from Leaves

03.07.2020 | Power and Electrical Engineering

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>