Astronomers let gaseous disks tilt and shrink in virtual wind tunnel

August 28, 2017, Radboud University
Astronomers let gaseous disks tilt and shrink in virtual wind tunnel
The left-most image shows the starting point. The second picture shows the situation after 250 years, then after 500 years and eventually after 1000 years. Credit: Thomas Wijnen, Radboud University

A team of Dutch astronomers, led by Thomas Wijnen from Radboud University, has managed to tilt and shrink gaseous disks, in which planets form, in a virtual wind tunnel. The research helps in finding an explanation for the tilted planetary orbits in our own solar system, for example. Wijnen and his colleagues publish their findings in two articles in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

A newborn star is surrounded by a disk of gas and dust out of which form. In addition, there is a lot of remaining gas in star forming areas, which was not used to form (and their disks).

Dutch astronomers presume that the gaseous disk from which our own planet system originated was tilted under the influence of its movement through gas. To investigate this hypothesis, they placed a star with a gaseous disk in a and tested several different conditions. A real wind tunnel was not an option, because that tunnel should be larger than a complete solar system and because the processes last for hundreds of thousands of years.

Thomas Wijnen, who will defend his PhD thesis at Radboud University on October 5, and who is now working at Leiden University, is the first author of two scientific articles. He explains: "In a video of our simulation (below) you see the disk tilting. You can also see how the outer layers of the are stripped by the flow. The disk also shrinks because it continuously sweeps up gas from the flow, but that is harder to see in the video."

Credit: Radboud University

The researchers are able to describe the shrinking of the discs theoretically and apply their theory by simulating discs in, among others, the Trapezium Cluster, a star-forming region in the Orion Nebula in the constellation of Orion at 'only' 1300 light years from Earth.

The Dutch simulations appear to resemble the reality well. Wijnen: "We have discovered that near collisions between two disks are less important than previously thought. Our simulations show that sweeping up gas from the environment is more important. Until now, no one had investigated the influence of the swept up gas and no one had thought that it can play such a big role."

In the future, the researchers would like to investigate the influence of a shrinking disk on the formation of planets. They suggest that due to the shrinking, planets that originate on the outside of the system can move to their star. Research on planet formation is "hot" because in early 2017 the Trappist-1 system was discovered which has seven big planets orbiting close to its star.

Explore further: Astronomers explain the formation of seven exoplanets around Trappist-1

More information: T. P. G. Wijnen et al. Changes in orientation and shape of protoplanetary discs moving through an ambient medium, Astronomy & Astrophysics (2017). DOI: 10.1051/0004-6361/201730793

T. P. G. Wijnen et al. Disc truncation in embedded star clusters: Dynamical encounters versus face-on accretion, Astronomy & Astrophysics (2017). DOI: 10.1051/0004-6361/201731072

Related Stories

Transition discs in Ophiuchus and Taurus

July 7, 2015

A star is typically born with a disk of gas and dust encircling it, from which planets develop as dust grains in the disk collide, stick together and grow. These disks, warmed by the star to a range of temperatures above ...

Resolving the planetesimal belt around HR8799

August 15, 2016

Planets develop from the dusty placental disk of material that surrounds a star after it begins to shine. The dust in that disk, according to most models, starts to stick to itself until clumps develop large enough to attract ...

Recommended for you

Team creates high-fidelity images of Sun's atmosphere

July 18, 2018

In 1610, Galileo redesigned the telescope and discovered Jupiter's four largest moons. Nearly 400 years later, NASA's Hubble Space Telescope used its powerful optics to look deep into space—enabling scientists to pin down ...

Martian atmosphere behaves as one

July 18, 2018

New research using a decade of data from ESA's Mars Express has found clear signs of the complex martian atmosphere acting as a single, interconnected system, with processes occurring at low and mid levels significantly affecting ...

NASA's new mini satellite will study Milky Way's halo

July 18, 2018

Astronomers keep coming up short when they survey "normal" matter, the material that makes up galaxies, stars and planets. A new NASA-sponsored CubeSat mission called HaloSat, deployed from the International Space Station ...

Supersharp images from new VLT adaptive optics

July 18, 2018

ESO's Very Large Telescope (VLT) has achieved first light with a new adaptive optics mode called laser tomography—and has captured remarkably sharp test images of the planet Neptune and other objects. The MUSE instrument ...

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.