Dusty Baby Solar System Gives Clues On How Our Sun And Planets Grew Up

This isn’t a clone of our Solar System, but it’s close enough. Scientists eagerly scrutinized a young star system called HD 95086 to learn more about how dust belts and giant planets grow up together. This is an important finding for our own neighborhood, where the gas giants of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune are also wedged between dusty areas.

“By looking at other star systems like these, we can piece together how our own Solar System came to be,” stated lead author Kate Su, an associate astronomer at the University of Arizona, Tucson.

The system is about 295 light-years from Earth, and is suspected to have two dust belts: a warmer one (similar to our asteroid belt) and a cooler one (similar to the Kuiper Belt that has icy objects.) The system is host to at least one planet that is five times the mass of Jupiter, and other planets could also be hiding between the dusty lanes. This planet, called HD 95086 b, was imaged by the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Observatory in 2013.

Planet HD95086 b is shown at lower left in this picture. Astronomers blocked out the light of the star (center) to image the exoplanet. The blue circle represents the equivalent orbit of Neptune in this star system. Credit: ESO/J. Rameau
Planet HD95086 b is shown at lower left in this picture. Astronomers blocked out the light of the star (center) to image the exoplanet. The blue circle represents the equivalent orbit of Neptune in this star system. Credit: ESO/J. Rameau

The next step was a comparison study with another star system called HR 8799, which also has two dusty rings and in this case, at least four planets in between. These planets have also been caught on camera. Comparing the structure of the two systems indicates that HD 95086 may have more planets lurking for astronomers to discover.

“By knowing where the debris is, plus the properties of the known planet in the system, we can get an idea of what other kinds of planets can be there,” stated Sarah Morrison, a co-author of the paper and a PhD student at the University of Arizona. “We know that we should be looking for multiple planets instead of a single giant planet.”

The researchers presented their work at the Division for Planetary Science Meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Tucson, Arizona. A press release did not disclose publication plans or if the work was peer-reviewed.

Source: NASA

Smile! This Could Be The Lightest Alien Planet Ever Captured On Camera

We’ve found hundreds of planets outside the solar system, but taking a picture of one is still something quite special. The light of the parent star tends to greatly overwhelm the faint light of the alien planet. (So usually we learn about planets by tracking the effects each planet has on its star, like dimming light when it passes in front or making the star slightly wobble.)

This picture (above) shows HD95086 b, which astronomers believe is one of only about a dozen exoplanets ever imaged. It’s 300 light-years from Earth. The planet candidate is about four to five times the mass of Jupiter and orbiting a very young star that is probably only 10 million to 17 million years old. That’s a baby compared to our own solar system, estimated at 4.5 billion years old.

We still have a lot to learn about this object (and the observations from the Very Large Telescope will need to be confirmed independently), but so far astronomers say they figure that planet formed in the gas and dust surrounding star HD 95086. But the planet is actually very far away from the star now, about twice the distance as the Sun-Neptune orbital span in our own solar system.

The Very Large Telescope (VLT) at ESO's Cerro Paranal observing site.  Located in the Atacama Desert of Chile, the site is over 2600 metres  above sea level, providing incredibly dry, dark viewing conditions. The  VLT is the worldâ??s most advanced optical  instrument, consisting         of four Unit Telescopes with main mirrors 8.2-m in diameter and   four movable 1.8-m diameter Auxiliary        Telescopes. The telescopes  can work together, in groups of two or  three, to form a giant  interferometer, allowing astronomers to see  details up to 25 times  finer than with  the individual telescopes. Credit: European Southern Observatory
The Very Large Telescope (VLT) at ESO’s Cerro Paranal observing site. Credit: European Southern Observatory

“Its current location raises questions about its formation process,” stated team member Anne-Marie Lagrange, who is with the Grenoble Institute of Planetology and Astrophysics in France.

“It either grew by assembling the rocks that form the solid core and then slowly accumulated gas from the environment to form the heavy atmosphere, or started forming from a gaseous clump that arose from gravitational instabilities in the disc.

“Interactions between the planet and the disc itself,” she added, “or with other planets may have also moved the planet from where it was born.”

Astronomers estimate the planet candidate has a surface temperature of 1,292 degrees Fahrenheit (700 degrees Celsius), which could allow water vapor or methane to stick around in the atmosphere. It will take more VLT observations to figure this out, though.

The results from this study will be published in Astrophysical Journal Letters. The paper is also available on prepublishing site Arxiv.

Source: European Southern Observatory