“Combining ALMA observations of the ring’s shape with computer models, we can place very tight limits on the mass and orbit of any planet near the ring.” said Aaron Boley, a Sagan Postdoctoral Fellow at UF and leader of the study. “The masses of the planets must be small so they do not destroy the ring, but their masses cannot be too low or they would not shape the ring.”
Although Fomalhaut is a much hotter star than the sun, the planets are so far from their host star that they are among the coldest planets known around a normal star. They are thought to be low-mass bodies, but astronomers do not have enough data to tell whether they have a significant amount of hydrogen gas or are mostly rock and ice.
“ALMA observations show that Fomalhaut’s ring is even more narrow and thinner than previously known,” said Matthew Payne, an astronomer at the University of Florida who contributed to the study. “Fomalhaut b alone only explains the ring’s sharp inner edge. Our analysis suggests that two planets, one interior and one exterior, are shepherding the ring, analogous to how Uranus’ moons Cordelia and Ophelia confine Uranus’ brightest ring.”The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, located in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile at an altitude of 16,400 feet is the largest astronomical project in existence. Still under construction, ALMA began scientific operations in September.
Aaron Boley | EurekAlert!
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