Planet Formation around a Binary Star: How Baby Planets Deal with Gravitational Forces

First Posted: Feb 15, 2016 11:57 AM EST

Researchers have taken a closer look at planet formation around a binary star. Using ALMA, astronomers have learned a bit more about the very early stages of planetary formation.

Astronomers struggle to understand how planets form in binary star systems. Early models suggested that the gravitational tug-of-war between two stars would actually send young planets into eccentric orbits, and possibly eject them completely from their home system. Now, though, researchers have found that planets do form in these systems and actually maintain surprisingly stable orbits.

In order to better understand how these systems form and evolve, astronomers used ALMA to take a new, detailed look at the planet-forming disk around HD 142527, which is a binary star that's about 450 light-years from Earth in a cluster of young stars known as the Scorpius-Centaurus Association.

This system consists of a main star a little more than twice the mass of our sun and a smaller companion star that's only about a third the mass of our sun. The two stars are separated by about one billion miles, which is a little more than the distance from the sun to Saturn. Previous ALMA studies of this system revealed surprising details about the structure of the system's inner and outer disks.

"This binary system has long been known to harbor a planet-forming corona of dust and gas," said Andrea Isella, one of the researchers, in a news release. "The new ALMA images reveal previously unseen details about the physical processes that regulate the formation of planets around this and perhaps many other binary systems."

The findings reveal a bit more about planetary formation. More specifically, it shows that the crescent-shaped dust cloud around the binary system may be the result of forces that are unique to a binary system, and may also be key to the formation of planets.

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