Some Young Planets Are Flattened Smarties, not Spheres.

This image from supercomputer simulations shows how some exoplanets form as 'flattened Smarties' rather than spheres. It shows the same planet from the top (left) and the side (right.) The images are from supercomputer simulations of planetary formation. Image Credit: Fenton and Stamatellos 2024.

One of contemporary astronomy’s most pressing questions concerns planet formation. We can see more deeply than ever into very young solar systems where planets are taking shape in the disks around young stars. But our view is still clouded by all the gas and dust in these young systems.

The picture of planet formation just got cloudier with the discovery that some young planets are shaped like flattened candies rather than spheres.

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Planetary Surfaces: Why study them? Can they help us find life elsewhere?

Universe Today recently explored the importance of studying impact craters and what they can teach us about finding life beyond Earth. Impact craters are considered one of the many surface processes—others include volcanism, weathering, erosion, and plate tectonics—that shape surfaces on numerous planetary bodies, with all of them simultaneously occurring on Earth. Here, we will explore how and why planetary scientists study planetary surfaces, the challenges faced when studying other planetary surfaces, what planetary surfaces can teach us about finding life, and how upcoming students can pursue studying planetary surfaces, as well. So, why is it so important to study planetary surfaces throughout the solar system?

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Half of this Exoplanet is Covered in Lava

Like Kepler-10 b, illustrated above, the exoplanet HD 63433 d is a small, rocky planet in a tight orbit of its star. HD 63433 d is the smallest confirmed exoplanet younger than 500 million years old. It's also the closest discovered Earth-sized planet this young, at about 400 million years old. NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle

Astronomers working with TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite) have discovered a planet that’s been left out in the Sun too long. Or at least half of it has. The newly discovered planet is tidally locked to its star, and one side is completely molten.

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Planetesimals Are Buffeted by Wind in their Nebula, Throwing Debris into Space

This artist's illustration shows planetisimals around a young star. New research shows that planetesimals are blasted by headwind, losing debris into space. Image Credit: NASA/JPL

Before planets form around a young star, the protosolar disk is populated with innumerable planetesimals. Over time, these planetesimals combine to form planets, and the core accretion theory explains how that happens. But before there are planets, the disk full of planetesimals is a messy place.

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The Youngest Planetary Disks Ever Seen

The evolutionary sequence of protoplanetary disks with substructures, from the ALMA CAMPOS survey. These wide varieties of planetary disk structures are possible formation sites for young protoplanets. Image Credit: Hsieh et al. in prep.

How long does planet formation take? Maybe not as long as we thought, according to new research. Observations with the Atacama Large Millimetre/submillimetre Array (ALMA) show that planet formation around young stars may begin much earlier than scientists thought.

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Three Iron Rings Around A Star Show Where Planets are Forming

Observations with the European Southern Observatory's (ESO) Very Large Telescope Interferometer (VLTI) found various silicate compounds and potentially iron, substances we also find in large amounts in the solar system's rocky planets. Credit: Jenry

Researchers using the ESO’s Very Large Telescope Interferometer (VLTI) have found three iron rings around a young star about 500 light-years away. The rings indicate that planets are forming. What can these rings tell us about how Earth and the other planets in our Solar System formed?

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This Planet is Way Too Big for its Star

This artist's illustration shows what the star LHS 3145 might look like from the surface of its planet, LHS 314b. Image Credit: Penn State / Penn State. Creative Commons

Scientists love outliers. Outliers are nature’s way of telling us what its boundaries are and where its limits lie. Rather than being upset when an outlier disrupts their understanding, scientists feed on the curiosity that outliers inspire.

It’s true in the case of a new discovery of a massive planet orbiting a small star. That goes against our understanding of how planets form, meaning our planet-formation model needs an update.

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A Planetary System With Six Sub-Neptunes Locked in Perfect Resonance

SCIENCE & EXPLORATION Orbital geometry of HD110067 29/11/2023 457 VIEWS 19 LIKES 492309 ID LIKE DOWNLOAD XFacebookCopy LinkShare DETAILS RELATED Tracing a link between two neighbour planets at regular time intervals along their orbits, creates a pattern unique to each couple. The six planets of the HD110067 system together create a mesmerising geometric pattern due to their resonance-chain.
Credit: Thibaut Roger/NCCR PlanetS

A team of researchers led by University of Chicago astronomer Rafael Luque analyzed data acquired by both NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) and ESA’s CHaracterising ExOPlanet Satellite (Cheops) and found a unique planetary system. Orbiting a star cataloged as HD110067, this system contains six sub-Neptune planets. Incredibly, all six planets are orbiting in direct resonance with each other. The results of the work were published on November 29 in Nature.

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ALMA Takes Next-Level Images of a Protoplanetary Disk

This ALMA image of the young star HL Tauri shows rings of dust surrounding the star. The line patterns show the orientation of polarized light. It's the deepest dust polarization image of any protoplanetary disk captured thus far, revealing details about the dust grains in the disk. Credit: NSF/AUI/NRAO/B. Saxton/Stephens et al.

The ESO’s Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) is perched high in the Chilean Andes. ALMA is made of 66 high-precision antennae that all work together to observe light just between radio and infrared. Its specialty is cold objects, and in recent years, it has taken some stunning and scientifically illuminating images of protoplanetary disks and the planets forming in them.

But its newest image supersedes them all.

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JWST Follows Neon Signs Toward New Thinking on Planet Formation

This artist's illustration shows the young star SZ Chamaeleontis (SZ Cha). SZ Cha is surrounded by a protoplanetary disk of gas and dust. Planets may form in the disk, but they're running out of time. Image Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, Ralf Crawford (STScI)

Everyone knows that the James Webb Space Telescope is a ground-breaking infrared space telescope that’s helping us better understand the cosmos. The JWST’s discerning infrared eyes are deepening our understanding of everything from exoplanets to primitive galaxies to the birth of stars.

But it’s not the first ground-breaking infrared space telescope we’ve launched. There was IRAS, then ISO, then the Spitzer Space Telescope. The Spitzer is the JWST’s most recent infrared predecessor, and the JWST is observing one of the same targets that the Spitzer did, taking note of some puzzling changes.

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