The key stage in the Birth of Giant Planets observed by Astronomers using the ALMA telescope. They have seen vast streams of gas, expected to be created by giant planets as they grow, a key stage in the birth of giant planets. An artist’s impression of the disc of gas and cosmic dust around the young star HD 142527. Image © ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)/M. Kornmesser (ESO)/Nick Risinger
The key stage in the birth of Giant Planets observed by Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) telescope, around the young star HD 142527.
Planets forming around the young star HD 142527, are helping the star itself continue to grow, resolving a longstanding mystery.
The international team of astronomers studied the young star HD 142527, over 450 light-years from Earth, which is surrounded by a disc of gas and cosmic dust — the remains of the cloud from which the star formed. The dusty disc is divided into an inner and an outer part by a gap, which is thought to have been carved by newly forming gas giant planets clearing out their orbits as they circle the star. The inner disc reaches from the star out to the equivalent of the orbit of Saturn in the Solar System, while the outer disc begins about 14 times further out. The outer disc does not surround the star uniformly; instead, it has a horseshoe shape, probably caused by the gravitational effect of the orbiting giant planets.
According to theory, the giant planets grow by capturing gas from the outer disc, in streams that form bridges across the gap in the disc.
“Astronomers have been predicting that these streams must exist, but this is the first time we’ve been able to see them directly,” says Simon Casassus (Universidad de Chile, Chile), who led the new study. “Thanks to the new ALMA telescope, we’ve been able to get direct observations to illuminate current theories of how planets are formed!”
Casassus and his team used ALMA to look at the gas and cosmic dust around the star, seeing finer details, and closer to the star, than could be seen with previous such telescopes. ALMA’s observations, at submillimetre wavelengths, are also impervious to the glare from the star that affects infrared or visible-light telescopes. The gap in the dusty disc was already known, but they also discovered diffuse gas remaining in the gap, and two denser streams of gas flowing from the outer disc, across the gap, to the inner disc.
“We think that there is a giant planet hidden within, and causing, each of these streams. The planets grow by capturing some of the gas from the outer disc, but they are really messy eaters: the rest of it overshoots and feeds into the inner disc around the star” says Sebastián Pérez, a member of the team, who is also at Universidad de Chile.