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Webb Telescope unveils first glimpse into planetary formation
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Webb Telescope unveils first glimpse into planetary formation
by Clarence Oxford
Los Angeles CA (SPX) Apr 02, 2024

In a major stride for astronomy, scientists utilizing the Webb Telescope, equipped with advanced infrared technology partly developed by the University of Arizona, have captured the first direct views of the materials shaping a young planetary system. This research is directly helping our understanding of how planets emerge from the dense interstellar dust and gas.

At the UArizona Steward Observatory, led by Jarron Leisenring, researchers have delved into the depths of space to observe the infancy stages of planetary systems, known as protoplanetary disks. This exploration integrates the JWST's data with previous insights from the Hubble Space Telescope and the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) to reveal the interactions within these disks, contributing significantly to our grasp of planetary genesis.

The process of planetary formation begins in a protoplanetary disk-a dense collection of gas and dust around a young star. Over millions of years, this material coalesces into larger bodies, eventually forming planets. Understanding this lifecycle is crucial, as it provides insights into the origins of our solar system and others across the cosmos.

Notably, the JWST's observations targeted the protoplanetary disk around HL Tauri, a young star akin to our sun, located in the Taurus star-forming region some 457 light-years away. Despite the absence of directly observed forming planets in HL Tau and two other studied systems, SAO 206462 and MWC 758, the JWST's sensitive instruments have refined our understanding of planetary formation, placing tighter constraints on the characteristics of potential planets within these disks.

Kevin Wagner, a NASA Hubble/Sagan Fellow at Steward Observatory and co-author of the HL Tau study, emphasized the significant nature of these observations. They suggest that the planets responsible for the observed disk features are either too close to their host stars, too faint, or enveloped in dust, making them challenging to detect directly.

In an unexpected turn, the JWST also unveiled intricate details of the proto-stellar envelope surrounding HL Tau. This feature, consisting of dust and gas streams flowing into the disk, provides vital raw materials for the formation of planets and their precursors. These observations offer a richer understanding of the dynamic processes at play in the early stages of planetary system development.

Related Links
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Webb opens new chapter in search for forming planets
Los Angeles CA (SPX) Mar 28, 2024
In a pioneering effort to uncover the mysteries of planet formation, astronomers have directed the James Webb Space Telescope's (JWST) advanced capabilities toward protoplanetary disks, the birthplaces of planets. This initiative marks a significant milestone in the study of these nascent celestial bodies and their environments. Spearheaded by researchers from the University of Michigan, University of Arizona, and University of Victoria, this collaborative study integrates new JWST observations with pre ... read more

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