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ALMA photographs planet formation patterns around sun-like star

By Brooks Hays
ALMA's images revealed two concentric rings -- where planets may be forming -- surrounding a young, sun-like star. Photo by ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO) / Kudo et al.
ALMA's images revealed two concentric rings -- where planets may be forming -- surrounding a young, sun-like star. Photo by ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO) / Kudo et al.

March 13 (UPI) -- With the help of data collected by the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, or ALMA, astronomers in Japan have identified the signatures of an exoplanet forming around a young, sun-like star.

The discovery, detailed this week in the Astrophysical Journal, could help scientists better understand how our own solar system formed and evolved.

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Scientists at the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan found ring-like patterns in the circumstellar disk surrounding the young star DM Tau, found in the constellation Taurus and positioned 470 light-years from Earth. DM Tau is estimated to be between 3 and 5 million years old, and it features a mass roughly half that of our sun.

This isn't the first time scientists have surveyed DM Tau's disk of gas and dust. But earlier efforts produced two competing models. One showed the ring interrupting the star's disk positioned around where simulations suggest an asteroid belt would be. Another model positioned the ring farther out, closer to where a distant planet would form.

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"Our ALMA observations provided a clear answer: both are right," NAOJ astronomer Tomoyuki Kudo said in a news release. "DM Tau has two rings, one at each location."

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Kudo and his colleagues located a bright spot along the disk's outer ring. Astronomers hypothesize the spot represents a dense collection of dust where a planet like Neptune or Uranus is forming.

"We are also interested in seeing the details in the inner region of the disk, because the Earth formed in such an area around the young Sun," said Jun Hashimoto, researcher at Japan's Astrobiology Center. "The distribution of dust in the inner ring around DM Tau will provide crucial information to understand the origin of planets like Earth."

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