Planets may be forming around distant star

Oct. 21, 2011 at 8:31 PM
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GREENBELT, Md., Oct. 21 (UPI) -- A new image of spiral arms in the gas and dust around a sun-like star may provide clues to the presence of embedded but as-yet-unseen planets, NASA says.

Two spiral arms have been observed emerging from the gas-rich disk around SAO 206462, a young star in the constellation Lupus, a release from the space agency said Wednesday.

"Detailed computer simulations have shown us that the gravitational pull of a planet inside a circumstellar disk can perturb gas and dust, creating spiral arms," Carol Grady, an astronomer based at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., said.

"Now, for the first time, we're seeing these dynamical features," she said.

Grady's research is part of a five-year-long near-infrared study of young stars and their surrounding dust disks using a telescope atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii.

"What we're finding is that once these systems reach ages of a few million years, their disks begin to show a wealth of structure -- rings, divots, gaps and now spiral features," John Wisniewski, a collaborator at the University of Washington in Seattle, said. "Many of these structures could be caused by planets within the disks."

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Topics: Mauna Kea, NASA
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