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Astronomers Examine Planet Formation Around Binary Star

First Posted: Feb 16, 2016 01:46 PM EST

Researchers from Rice University are shedding new light on planet formation in a planetary system around a distant binary star. Andrea Isella, a physics and astronomy professor, captured images of a binary system "HD 142527" with the use of the new Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) radio telescope in Chile.

Isella claimed that this binary system has been known to harbor a planet-forming corona of dust and gas, however, the new ALMA images creates a detailed analysis of the system's contents and mechanics. "HD 142527" is about 450 light-years away and it is located in the Scorpius-Centaurus association, which has a cluster of young stars similar to HL Tau, which were captured in by ALMA in 2014. The images of HL Tau showed the ring-like structures in the dust and gas around the star, which is an indication that planetary formation is on the way.

The images of "HD 142527" depict a broad ring around the double star, where most of it is composed of gas, such as carbon monoxide. The massive arc that engulfs about a third of the star is made up of dust and ice, according to Isella.

"Where the red in the image is brightest, the density of the dust peaks...And where we find a dense clump of dust, the carbon monoxide molecules disappear," Isella said in a news release. "The temperature is so low that the gas turns into ice and sticks to the grains. This is important for planet formation. The solid dust needs to stick together to form a bigger body that will eventually attract more rock and gas gravitationally."

Isella claimed that the crescent-shaped dust cloud might be a product of gravitational forces, which is typical to binary stars.

"The observation of systems like HD 142527 yields a fantastic opportunity to study the physical processes that regulate the formation of planets around binary systems," said Isella. 

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