Planet Formation in Action? (w/ Video)

Feb 24, 2011
This artist’s impression shows the disc around the young star T Cha. Using ESO’s Very Large Telescope this disc has been found to be in two parts, a narrow ring close to the star and the remainder of the disc material much further out. A companion object, seen in the foreground, has been detected in the gap in the disc that may be either a brown dwarf or a large planet. The inner dust disc is lost in the glare of the star on this picture. Credit: ESO

(PhysOrg.com) -- Using ESO’s Very Large Telescope an international team of astronomers has been able to study the short-lived disc of material around a young star that is in the early stages of making a planetary system. For the first time a smaller companion could be detected that may be the cause of the large gap found in the disc. Future observations will determine whether this companion is a planet or a brown dwarf.

Planets form from the discs of material around young , but the transition from dust disc to planetary system is rapid and few objects are caught during this phase. One such object is T Chamaeleontis (T Cha), a faint star in the small southern constellation of Chamaeleon that is comparable to the Sun, but very near the beginning of its life. T Cha lies about 350 light-years from the Earth and is only about seven million years old. Up to now no forming planets have been found in these transitional discs, although planets in more mature discs have been seen before.

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This video takes us on a fly-through of the disc around the young star T Cha. Using ESO’s Very Large Telescope this disc has been found to be in two parts, a narrow ring close to the star and the remainder of the disc material much further out. A companion object has been detected in the gap in the disc that may be either a large planet or a dusty brown dwarf. Credit: ESO

“Earlier studies had shown that T Cha was an excellent target for studying how planetary systems form,” notes Johan Olofsson (Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, Heidelberg, Germany), one of the lead authors of two papers in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics that describe the new work. “But this star is quite distant and the full power of the Very Large Telescope Interferometer (VLTI) was needed to resolve very fine details and see what is going on in the dust disc.”

The astronomers first observed T Cha using the AMBER instrument and the VLT Interferometer (VLTI). They found that some of the disc material formed a narrow dusty ring only about 20 million kilometres from the star. Beyond this inner disc, they found a region devoid of dust with the outer part of the disc stretching out into regions beyond about 1.1 billion kilometres from the star.
Nuria Huélamo (Centro de Astrobiología, ESAC, Spain), the lead author of the second paper takes up the story: “For us the gap in the dust disc around T Cha was a smoking gun, and we asked ourselves: could we be witnessing a companion digging a gap inside its protoplanetary disc?”

This chart shows the location of the young star T Cha within the constellation of Chamaeleon. This map shows most of the stars visible to the unaided eye under good conditions and the star itself is marked as a red circle. This star is too faint to see with the unaided eye, but is easily seen with a small telescope. Credit: ESO

However, finding a faint companion so close to a bright star is a huge challenge and the team had to use the VLT instrument NACO in a novel and powerful way, called sparse aperture masking, to reach their goal. After careful analysis they found the clear signature of an object located within the gap in the dust disc, about one billion kilometres from the star — slightly further out than Jupiter is within our Solar System and close to the outer edge of the gap. This is the first detection of an object much smaller than a star within a gap in the planet-forming dust disc around a young star. The evidence suggests that the companion object cannot be a normal star but it could be either a brown dwarf surrounded by dust or, most excitingly, a recently formed planet.

Huélamo concludes: “This is a remarkable joint study that combines two different state-of-the-art instruments at ESO’s Paranal Observatory. Future observations will allow us to find out more about the companion and the disc, and also understand what fuels the inner dusty disc.”

Explore further: First potentially habitable Earth-sized planet confirmed: It may have liquid water

More information: This research was presented in two papers: Olofsson et al. 2011, “Warm dust resolved in the cold disk around TCha with VLTI/AMBER”, and Huélamo et al. 2011, “A companion candidate in the gap of the T Cha transitional disk”, to appear in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

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User comments : 7

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PS3
3.7 / 5 (3) Feb 24, 2011
w/fake video.
kevinrtrs
1.4 / 5 (11) Feb 24, 2011
IT IS THOUGHT THAT....
Planets form from the discs of material around young stars, but the transition from dust disc to planetary system is rapid and few objects are caught during this phase.

I wish people would be just a little bit more honest in their statements. This is so typical - just because it has been "accepted" by a lot of people doesn't mean that it's the truth. It simply means that whilst they cannot be certain, this is how they'd like it to be. Why not then go on to state that this is a belief - and not a FACT?

By the way, just how RAPID is that formation? it would be nice to know in terms of earth days/years. I suspect that if it is true and we eventually get to witness such an event, the speed of planet formation will border on catastrophically quick - maybe in a matter of minutes or hours. Why? Because of the very make-up and geometry of planets - you only have so much time to compress material together before counteracting forces get to work.
OckhamsRazor
5 / 5 (4) Feb 24, 2011
This is so typical - just because it has been "accepted" by a lot of people doesn't mean that it's the truth.


So, anyone else appreciate the irony here from kevinrtrs?

Anyway it's ok, kevin. It's rapid, but it's definitely not so quick as just a few thousand years before life begins to flourish and people are writing books about an outspoken carpenter. But please enlighten us on the counteracting forces that prevent planets taking longer than minutes or hours to form.
Ethelred
5 / 5 (6) Feb 25, 2011
I wish people would be just a little bit more honest in their statements.
I wish so too as I get tired of so many duplicitous posts. How about you start the trend for the Creationist here?

I wish people would be just a little bit more honest in their statements.
True. Some people do try to avoid reasoned science.

It simply means that whilst they cannot be certain, this is how they'd like it to be.
Gosh so much for being honest. It means its how the evidence and the physics show is very likely. This new evidence is pretty strong.
Why not then go on to state that this is a belief - and not a FACT?
I thought you wanted more honesty even if you can't manage it yourself. It isn't just a belief. It is based on evidence, known physics and mathematical modelling in computers. And now with even more evidence. Not a fact but not a mere belief. I take it that you are unaware that there is a lot of room in between and they have just pushed it farther towards fact.

More
Ethelred
5 / 5 (5) Feb 25, 2011
just how RAPID is that formation?
Not less than 10,000 years.
it would be nice to know in terms of earth days/years.
You missed out by at least three orders of magnitude.
I suspect that if it is true and we eventually get to witness such an event, the speed of planet formation will border on catastrophically quick
Catastrophic is good word. Quick isn't. More like millions of years.
maybe in a matter of minutes or hours.
Why?
Because your religion needs it I would guess because sure doesn't match physics.
Because of the very make-up and geometry of planets - you only have so much time to compress material together before counteracting forces get to work.
Which is why it can't happen fast. Heat needs to be radiated away or you wind up with a vapor cloud and then it has to start all over again.

Really Kevin you need to work on honesty.

When was the Flood Kevin? Goodbye.

Ethelred
Beard
not rated yet Feb 25, 2011
I wish people would be just a little bit more honest in their statements. This is so typical - just because it has been "accepted" by a lot of people doesn't mean that it's the truth.


Kevinrtrs confirmed for subtle troll. I applaud your dedication.
d_robison
not rated yet Mar 01, 2011
@Ethelred

Normally I don't stoop to this level, but sometimes I can't resist. It appears you have found someone who harbors theories in much the same way as Omatumr. An interesting specimen indeed.

Oh the temptation...There were my two cents for the toll required by the troll Kevinrtrs.

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