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A pioneering survey has revealed the secret of the birth of dozens of planets

A pioneering survey has revealed the secret of the birth of dozens of planets

A series of studies by a group of researchers has shed new light on the fascinating and complex process of planet formation. The images were taken with the help of the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope (ESO VLT) as part of one of the largest surveys of planet-forming disks. The research collects observations of more than 80 young stars around which planets are likely to form, providing a unique look at how planets form in different regions of our galaxy.

A selection of recordings made by SPHERE.

“We have moved from intensive studies of individual star systems to an overview of entire star formation fields.” – said Christian Jenski, a lecturer at the University of Galway in Ireland, who is the lead author of one of the three new studies published in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics.

To date, more than 5,000 planets have been discovered orbiting other stars, often in systems very different from our own solar system. To understand where and how this diversity arises, astronomers need to observe the dust- and gas-rich disks that surround young stars, the cradle of planetary formation. They are mostly found in massive gas clouds where the stars themselves form.

Disks in the Orion Cloud in SPHERE images.

As with mature planetary systems, the new images show the extraordinary diversity of planet-forming disks. “Some of these disks display massive spiral arms, presumably powered by the complex ballet of planets orbiting them,” Genski said. “Other images show large rings and cavities formed by the planets, while others appear soft and almost inert in this bustling activity,” adds Antonio Garofi, an astronomer at the Arcetri Astrophysical Observatory of the Italian National Institute of Astrophysics (INAF) and lead author of one of the papers. Of leaves.

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Disks in the Taurus Cloud in SPHERE images.

The research group studied a total of 86 stars in three different star-forming regions in our galaxy: approx. The Taurus and Chameleon I regions are located 600 light-years away, in addition to approx. The gas-rich Orion Cloud is located 1,600 light-years away and is known to be the birthplace of many stars more massive than the Sun. The observations were collected by an international group of scientists from more than ten countries.

Disks in the Chamaeleon I cloud in SPHERE images.

For the research team, this data set provided key insights into the world of planetary formation. In Orion, for example, they found that members of clusters containing two or more stars are less likely to have a large planet-forming disk. This is a major achievement considering that, unlike our Sun, most stars in our galaxy have companions. In addition, the uneven appearance of the disks in this region indicates the possible presence of massive planets within them, which could cause the disks to bend and thus their rotation axis to differ from the star's rotation axis.

While planet-forming disks can extend hundreds of times further than the distance between Earth and the Sun, they appear as tiny pinpricks in the night sky due to their location hundreds of light-years away. To observe the disks, the team used SPHERE, a sensitive exoplanet search instrument mounted on the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope. SPHERE's highly adaptive optical system corrects for the turbulent effects of the Earth's atmosphere, thus producing clear images of the discs. Thus, the research team was able to capture disks around stars with a mass of up to half the mass of the Sun, which is usually too faint for most current instruments. Additional data for the survey was obtained using the VLT's X-shooter, which allowed astronomers to determine the ages and masses of the stars. The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), in which ESO is also involved, helped determine the amount of dust surrounding each star.

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Composite image of MWC 758's disk in the Taurus cloud. Yellow represents images taken by SPHERE, while blue represents images taken by ALMA

As technology advances, the research team hopes to delve deeper into the heart of planetary formation systems. For example, the large 39-meter mirror of the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope (ELT) that will be built soon will allow the team to study the interior regions around young stars, where rocky planets like ours could form.

For now, these stunning images are a trove of data for researchers to help unravel the secrets of planetary formation. “It is so poetic that the processes that mark the beginning of planetary formation and ultimately life in our solar system are so beautiful,” concludes Per Gunnar Vallegaard, a doctoral student at the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands. Who led the Orion study. Valegaard, who works part-time as a teacher at Hilversum International School in the Netherlands, hopes the images will inspire his students to become scientists in the future.

source: rain


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