24/7 Space News
Space research sheds new light on formation of planets
Colourised infra-red images of planetary formation captured by the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope. ESO, Christian Ginski, University of Galway
Space research sheds new light on formation of planets
by Staff Writers for Galway News
Galway, Ireland (SPX) Mar 07, 2024

An international team of astronomers has shed new light on the fascinating and complex process of planet formation. Using the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope (ESO's VLT) in Chile, researchers captured stunning images of more than 80 young stars and discs of dust and gas where planets are forming.

The research represents one of the largest surveys ever of planet-forming discs, providing astronomers with a wealth of data and a treasure trove of imagery and unique insights to help unpick the mysteries of planet formation in different regions of our galaxy.

Dr Christian Ginski, lecturer at the University of Galway and lead author of one of three new papers published, said: "This is really a shift in our field of study. We've gone from the intense study of individual star systems to this huge overview of entire star-forming regions.

"We know there is a very diverse population of planets out there. Now we know there is a very diverse population of planetary nurseries. Our images help us to try and connect these two, and this will eventually tell us how different kinds of planets are forming. Once we know that we can begin to figure out how often we get something like our own solar system that has the conditions for life to emerge."

The team studied 86 stars across three different star-forming regions of the Milky Way galaxy: Taurus and Chamaeleon I, both around 600 light-years from Earth, and Orion, a gas-rich cloud about 1,300 light-years from us that is known to be the birthplace of several stars more massive than our Sun.

The collection of new images showcases the extraordinary diversity of planet-forming discs in just three, relatively small, regions of our galaxy.

Dr Ginski describes the imagery captured: "We could call these planetary nurseries - huge discs of gas and dust surrounding young stars. And in terms of the universe, these are in our backyard, as they are only 600-1,300 light years away. Our own Galaxy, the Milky Way, is roughly 80 times as extended. Some of these discs show huge spiral arms, presumably driven by the intricate ballet of orbiting planets."

The observations were gathered by a large international team, with scientists from more than 10 countries.

To date more than 5,000 planets have been discovered orbiting stars other than our Sun, often within systems markedly different from our own solar system. To understand where and how this diversity arises, astronomers must observe the dust- and gas-rich discs that envelop young stars - the very cradles of planet formation. These are best found in huge gas clouds where the stars themselves are forming.

Dr Ginski added: "We are looking at these young birth places of planets because we want to understand why we are finding so many planetary systems around distant stars that are extremely diverse in their architecture and, mostly, very different from our solar system. To find that answer we turn to the earliest phase of planet formation."

The international research team was able to glean several key insights from the imagery and dataset.

In Orion they found that stars in groups of two or more were less likely to have large planet-forming discs. This is a significant result given that, unlike our Sun, most stars in our galaxy have companions.

As well as this, some of the discs in this region have an asymmetric appearance, suggesting the possibility of massive planets embedded within them, which could be causing the discs to warp and become misaligned.

Across all three star forming regions some imagery shows beautiful structures. Others appear smooth. Others are still interacting with the surrounding birth-cloud of their central star.

In terms of the extraordinary diversity of the planet-formation, some of them are very extended - more than 100 times the distance between the Earth and Sun. In relative terms, some are tiny - maybe 20-30 times the distance between the Earth and Sun, which would be roughly be the orbit of Neptune, the outermost planet in our solar system.

While planet-forming discs can extend for distances hundreds of times greater than the distance between Earth and the Sun, their location several hundreds of light-years from us makes them appear as tiny pinpricks in the night sky.

To observe the discs, the team employed the sophisticated Spectro-Polarimetric High-contrast Exoplanet REsearch instrument (SPHERE) mounted on ESO's VLT.

SPHERE's state-of-the-art extreme adaptive optics system corrects for the turbulent effects of Earth's atmosphere, yielding crisp images of the discs. This meant the team were able to image discs around stars with masses as low as half the mass of the Sun, which are typically too faint for most other instruments available today.

Additional data for the survey were obtained using the VLT's X-shooter instrument, which allowed astronomers to determine how young and how massive the stars are.

The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), in which ESO is a partner, on the other hand, helped the team understand more about the amount of dust surrounding some of the stars.

Dr Ginski added: "The extreme technological advancement in telescopes and instruments over the last decade was really a key factor allowing us to carry out this research. It is amazing that Irish astronomers, as members of ESO, have access to some of the largest telescopes on Earth."

As technology advances, the team hopes to delve even deeper into the heart of planet-forming systems. The large 39-metre mirror of ESO's forthcoming Extremely Large Telescope (ELT), for example, will enable the team to study the innermost regions around young stars, where rocky planets like our own might be forming. The University of Galway is directly contributing to the instrumentation of what will be the biggest telescope on the planet, allowing our astronomers privileged access once it is completed.

Dr Ginski added: "Once we have the ELT, we will revisit some of the most remarkable systems we have now found in our studies and peer into the regions where future habitable planets will be forming. This will bring us one step closer to understand how life emerges in the Universe."

Research Report:Disk Evolution Study Through Imaging of Nearby Young Stars (DESTINYS): The SPHERE view of the Orion star-forming region

Related Links
University of Galway
Lands Beyond Beyond - extra solar planets - news and science
Life Beyond Earth

Subscribe Free To Our Daily Newsletters

The following news reports may link to other Space Media Network websites.
Hold on to your atmospheres: how planet size affects atmospheric escape
Washington DC (SPX) Feb 29, 2024
Which planets are most likely to lose their atmospheres? New research finds a surprising relationship between planet size and atmospheric escape and suggests that the smallest planets aren't losing their atmospheres the fastest. Don't panic, but Earth is slowly losing its atmosphere - very slowly, at a rate so small that the Sun will balloon into a red giant and engulf our planet long before its atmosphere is whisked away. Atmospheric escape is an unavoidable reality for any planet encased in gas, ... read more

Astroforensics: Pioneering Blood Behavior Research for Space Crime Solving

Spacesuits need a major upgrade for the next phase of exploration

NASA to accept astronaut applications through April 2

Reps. Chu and Bacon Spearhead Bipartisan Effort with Planetary Science Caucus Re-Launch

Karman Space and Defense boosts ULA's Vulcan on Its Maiden flight

NASA Helps Emerging Space Companies 'Take the Heat'

Orbit Fab Announces Strategic Leadership Reorganization to Propel Space Refueling Innovation

SpaceX tentatively sets third Starship test flight for March 14

Study reveals potential for life's building blocks from Mars' ancient atmosphere

Little Groundwater Recharge in Ancient Mars Aquifer, According to New Models

Three years later, search for life on Mars continues

Mining Into Mineral King: Sols 4110-4111

Chang'e 6 and new rockets highlight China's packed 2024 space agenda

Long March 5 deploys Communication Technology Demonstrator 11 satellite

Shenzhou 17 astronauts complete China's first in-space repair job

Tiangong Space Station's Solar Wings Restored After Spacewalk Repair by Shenzhou XVII Team

Meridian Space Command establishes new HQ at Leicester's Space Innovation Hub

Sateliot unveils plan to expand its 5G IoT satellite constellation this year

SpaceX sends 46 Starlink satellites to orbit in consecutive launches

US and Australia signs Space Technology Safeguards Agreement

Apex Launches Aries SN1, Marks a Milestone in Satellite Bus Production with Record-Breaking Build Time

Full Disclousre: Enhanced Radiation Warnings for Space Tourists

Globalsat Group enhances IoT offerings with Myriota SatCom technology

Terran Orbital shares in $45M NASA contract for technology enhancement

Space research sheds new light on formation of planets

More Planets than Stars: Kepler's Legacy

Interstellar signal linked to aliens was actually just a truck

Scripps Research scientists reveal how first cells could have formed on Earth

NASA's Europa Jupiter Mission will be packed with humanity's messages

UCF scientists use James Webb Space Telescope to uncover clues about Neptune's evolution

New moons of Uranus and Neptune announced

NASA's New Horizons Detects Dusty Hints of Extended Kuiper Belt

Subscribe Free To Our Daily Newsletters


The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2023 - Space Media Network. All websites are published in Australia and are solely subject to Australian law and governed by Fair Use principals for news reporting and research purposes. AFP, UPI and IANS news wire stories are copyright Agence France-Presse, United Press International and Indo-Asia News Service. ESA news reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. All articles labeled "by Staff Writers" include reports supplied to Space Media Network by industry news wires, PR agencies, corporate press officers and the like. Such articles are individually curated and edited by Space Media Network staff on the basis of the report's information value to our industry and professional readership. Advertising does not imply endorsement, agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by Space Media Network on any Web page published or hosted by Space Media Network. General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) Statement Our advertisers use various cookies and the like to deliver the best ad banner available at one time. All network advertising suppliers have GDPR policies (Legitimate Interest) that conform with EU regulations for data collection. By using our websites you consent to cookie based advertising. If you do not agree with this then you must stop using the websites from May 25, 2018. Privacy Statement. Additional information can be found here at About Us.