Youngest solar systems detected

November 28, 2007
Youngest solar systems detected
An artist's rendition of the 1-million-year-old star system UX Tau A, located approximately 450 light-years away. Observations from NASA's Sptizer Space Telescope showed a gap in the dusty disk swirling around the system's central star. Astronomers suspect that the formation of one or multiple planets carved the space in this disk. Credit: University of Michigan

Astronomers at the University of Michigan have found what are believed to be some of the youngest solar systems yet detected.

The systems are around the young stars UX Tau A and LkCa 15, located in the Taurus star formation region just 450 light years away. Using a telescope that measures levels of infrared radiation, the researchers noticed gaps in the protoplanetary disks of gas and dust surrounding these stars. They say those gaps are most likely caused by infant planets sweeping those areas clear of debris.

A paper on the findings by astronomy doctoral student Catherine Espaillat, professor Nuria Calvet, and their colleagues is published in the Dec. 1 issue of Astrophysical Journal Letters.

"Previously, astronomers were seeing holes at the centers of protoplanetary disks and one of the theories was that the star could be photoevaporating that material," said Espaillat, first author of the paper.

Photoevaporation refers to the process of heating up the dust and gas in the surrounding cloud until it evaporates and dissipates.

"We found that in some stars, including these two, instead of a hole, there's a gap," Espaillat said. "It's more like a lane has been cleared within the disk. That is not consistent with photoevaporation. The existence of planets is the most probable theory that can explain this structure."

The researchers used NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope for this study. The infrared orbiting telescope observes energy at wavelengths invisible to optical telescopes. That allowed astronomers to study these "pre-main sequence stars" in a deeper way.

A main sequence star is an average adult star, like the sun, which burns by converting hydrogen into helium. Pre-main sequence stars like UX Tau A and LkCa 15 haven't yet established this conversion process. They derive energy from gravitational contraction. UX Tau A and LkCa 15 are both about 1 million years old.

"They're baby stars," Calvet said. The sun, for comparison, is a middle-aged star at 4.5 billion years old.

Calvet said this research adds new insights to the study of solar systems.

"We are looking for our history," Calvet said. "We are looking for the history of solar systems, trying to understand how they form."

The paper is called "On the Diversity of the Taurus Transitional Disks: UX Tau A & LkCa 15."

Source: University of Michigan

Explore further: Binary star system precisely timed with pulsar's gamma-rays

Related Stories

Binary star system precisely timed with pulsar's gamma-rays

July 31, 2015

Pulsars are rapidly rotating compact remnants born in the explosions of massive stars. They can be observed through their lighthouse-like beams of radio waves and gamma-rays. Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational ...

Scientists unlock secrets of stars through aluminium

July 29, 2015

Physicists at the University of York have revealed a new understanding of nucleosynthesis in stars, providing insight into the role massive stars play in the evolution of the Milky Way and the origins of the Solar System.

Recommended for you

Will SETI's unprecedented new program finally find E.T.?

August 4, 2015

Stephen Hawking, Frank Drake and dozens of journalists gathered at the Royal Society in London last week to hear astronomers announce a ground-breaking new project to search for intelligent extraterrestrial life called "Breakthrough ...

Tracking a mysterious group of asteroid outcasts

August 4, 2015

High above the plane of our solar system, near the asteroid-rich abyss between Mars and Jupiter, scientists have found a unique family of space rocks. These interplanetary oddballs are the Euphrosyne (pronounced you-FROH-seh-nee) ...

Dense star clusters shown to be binary black hole factories

July 29, 2015

The coalescence of two black holes—a very violent and exotic event—is one of the most sought-after observations of modern astronomy. But, as these mergers emit no light of any kind, finding such elusive events has been ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.