Astronomers find evidence of small Neptune or Saturn-like planet lurking in a disk


Devdiscourse News Desk | California | Updated: 16-09-2022 16:02 IST | Created: 16-09-2022 16:02 IST
Astronomers find evidence of small Neptune or Saturn-like planet lurking in a disk
Image Credit: M.Weiss/Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian

<p>Astronomers at the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard &amp; Smithsonian have developed a new way to detect small planets hidden in protoplanetary disks - rings of dust and gas that surround young, newborn stars - along with a "smoking gun" evidence of a small Neptune or Saturn-like planet lurking in a disk.</p> <p>"Directly detecting young planets is very challenging and has so far only been successful in one or two cases. The planets are always too faint for us to see because they're embedded in thick layers of gas and dust," says Feng Long, a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Astrophysics who led the new study.&nbsp;</p> <p>For this <a href="https://pweb.cfa.harvard.edu/news/its-planet-new-evidence-baby-planet-making" target="_blank" rel="nofollow noopener noreferrer">study</a>, Long decided to re-examine a protoplanetary disk called LkCa 15 that lies 518 light-years away in the Taurus constellation. Long dove into new high-resolution data from the ALMA Observatory, obtained primarily in 2019, and discovered two faint, previously undetected features.</p> <p>About 42 astronomical units out from the star, Long discovered a dusty ring with two separate and bright bunches of material orbiting within it. After examining the scenario with computer models, Long learned that their size and locations matched the model for the presence of a planet. The arc and clump of material Long detected are located at the L4 and L5 Lagrange points.</p> <p>For the unversed, Lagrange points are positions in space where the gravitational forces of a two body system like the Sun and the Earth produce enhanced regions of attraction and repulsion.</p> <p>Hidden 60 degrees between the L4 and L5 Lagrange points is a small planet, roughly the size of Neptune or Saturn, causing the accumulation of dust at points L4 and L5. The results show the planet is around one to three million years old - that's relatively young when it comes to planets.</p> <p>While direct imaging of this newborn planet may be impossible anytime soon, Long believes further observations of LkCa 15 with ALMA can provide additional evidence supporting her planetary discovery.</p>
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