Uncover the secrets of planet birth around dozens of stars

These observations include observations of more than eighty young stars, around which planets may form. This provides astronomers with a wealth of data and unique insights into how planets form in different parts of our galaxy.

To date, more than five thousand planets have been discovered orbiting stars other than the Sun, often in systems very different from our own solar system. To understand where and how this diversity arises, astronomers must observe dust- and gas-rich disks around young stars, the incubators of the planetary formation process. They are best found in the massive gas clouds in which the stars themselves form.

“Huge spiral arms”

New images show that planet-forming disks are as diverse as mature planetary systems. “Some of these disks display massive spiral arms, likely driven by the delicate dancing of the planets around them,” says Christian Jenski, a lecturer at the University of Galway (Ireland) and lead author of one of three new papers published today.

The team examined a total of 86 stars in three different star-forming regions within our Milky Way galaxy: Taurus I and Chameleon I, both located about six hundred light-years from Earth, and Orion, a gas-rich cloud about 1,600 light-years from Earth. For years it has been known to be the birthplace of many stars with a mass greater than that of the Sun. The observations were made by a large international team of scientists from more than ten countries.

The dataset provided several important insights. In the Orion Cloud, for example, the team found that massive planet-forming disks are less common among stars in clusters of two or more stars. This is an important result because most stars in our Milky Way Galaxy, unlike the Sun, have one or more companion stars. In addition, the uneven appearance of the disks in this region indicates that they contain massive planets, which may cause the disks to warp and tilt.

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In the future, the team hopes to delve deeper into the heart of planetary formation systems. The 39-metre-long mirror of the European Southern Observatory's future Very Large Telescope (ELT) is expected to allow astronomers to explore the vicinity of young stars, where rocky planets like our own could form.

Megan Vasquez

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