Birth of a Planetary System Witnessed by Astronomers Peering into its 'Amniotic Sac'

First Posted: Sep 14, 2015 07:18 AM EDT

Astronomers are taking a closer look at the birth of a planetary system. They've successfully peered through the "amniotic sac" of a star that's still forming to watch the innermost region of a burgeoning solar system.

"Nobody has ever been able to probe this close to a star that is still forming and which also has at least one planet so close in," said Ignacio Mendigutia, one of the researchers, in a news release. "We have been able to detect for the first time emission from the innermost part of the disk that surrounds the central star. Unexpectedly, this emission is similar to that of 'barren' young stars that do not show any signs of active planet formation."

In order to observe the distant system, the astronomers used the Very Large Telescope Inferometer (VLTI). The VLTI can make images as sharp as that of a single telescope that is 130 m in diameter.

In this case, the researchers looked at HD 100546, which is a young star surrounded by a disk-shaped structure of gas and dust. These disks are common around young stars, but the one around this particular star is a bit strange; if the star were placed at the center of our solar system, the outer part of the disk would extend up to around ten times the orbit of Pluto.

"More interestingly, the disk exhibits a gap that is devoid of material," said Medigutia. "This gap is very large, about 10 times the size of the space that separates the sun from the Earth. The inner disk of gasp could only survive for a few years before being trapped by the central star, so it must be continuously replenished somehow."

It's possible that the gravitational influence of the still-forming planet in the gap could be boosting a transfer of material from the gas-rich outer part of the disk to inner regions.

The findings are published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

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