Planet formation: ALMA detects gas in an orbital disk

Scientists using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) – of which the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) is a participant – have detected gas in a circular disk for the first time to study planet formation. What’s more, the detection also suggests the presence of a very young exoplanet. The research results are published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters,

The circumplanetary disk is a collection of gas, dust and debris around young planets. These disks give rise to the Moon and other small, rocky objects and govern the development of young, giant planets. Studying these disks in their earliest stages could help shed light on the formation of our own solar system, which also includes Jupiter’s Galilean moons, which scientists believe formed about 4.5 billion years ago from Jupiter. One of the orbits was made in the disc.

Studying AS 209 – a young star located about 395 light-years from Earth in the constellation Ophiuchus – scientists observed a blob of light emitted in the middle of an otherwise empty gap in the gas around the star. This revealed the circumferential disk surrounding a possible Jupiter-mass planet. Because of both the planet’s distance from its star and the age of the star, scientists are watching this system closely. The exoplanet is located more than 200 astronomical units, or 18.59 billion miles, away from the host star, challenging currently accepted theories of planet formation. And if the host star’s estimated age of only 1.6 million years is correct, this exoplanet may be the youngest ever detected. Further study is needed, and scientists hope that upcoming observations with the James Webb Space Telescope will confirm the planet’s presence.

“The best way to study planet formation is to observe planets as they form. We are living in a very exciting time when this happens, thanks to powerful telescopes such as ALMA and JWST,” says Jehan Bey. Said, University of Florida professor of astronomy and lead author of the paper.

Scientists have long suspected the presence of circular discs around exoplanets, but were unable to prove it until recently. In 2019, ALMA scientists observed the young exoplanet PDS 70c, detected a circumplanetary, moon-forming disk for the first time, and confirmed the discovery in 2021. New observations of gas in a circular disk on AS 209 may shed further light. On the evolution of planetary atmospheres and the processes by which moons are formed.

The National Radio Astronomy Observatory is a facility of the National Science Foundation, owned by Associated Universities, Inc. operated under a cooperative agreement.

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material provided by National Radio Astronomy Observatory, Note: Content can be edited for style and length.


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