Space

February 1, 2013

Herschel finds star possibly making planets past its prime

A star thought to have passed the age at which it can form planets may in fact be creating new worlds. The disk of material surrounding the surprising star called TW Hydrae may be massive enough to make even more planets than we have in our own solar system.

The findings were made using the European Space Agency’s Herschel Space Telescope, a mission in which NASA is a participant.

At roughly 10 million years old and 176 light years away, TW Hydrae is relatively close to Earth by astronomical standards. Its planet-forming disk has been well studied. TW Hydrae is relatively young but, in theory, it is past the age at which giant plants already may have formed.

“We didn’t expect to see so much gas around this star,” said Edwin Bergin of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Bergin led the new study appearing in the journal Nature. “Typically stars of this age have cleared out their surrounding material, but this star still has enough mass to make the equivalent of 50 Jupiters,” Bergin said.

In addition to revealing the peculiar state of the star, the findings also demonstrate a new, more precise method for weighing planet-forming disks. Previous techniques for assessing the mass were indirect and uncertain. The new method can directly probe the gas that typically goes into making planets.

Planets are born out of material swirling around young stars, and the mass of this material is a key factor controlling their formation. Astronomers did not know before the new study whether the disk around TW Hydrae contained enough material to form new planets similar to our own.

“Before, we had to use a proxy to guess the gas quantity in the planet-forming disks,” said Paul Goldsmith, the NASA project scientist for Herschel at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif. “This is another example of Herschel’s versatility and sensitivity yielding important new results about star and planet formation.”

Using Herschel, they were able to take a fresh look at the disk with the space telescope to analyze light coming from TW Hydrae and pick out the spectral signature of a gas called hydrogen deuteride. Simple hydrogen molecules are the main gas component of planets, but they emit light at wavelengths too short to be detected by Herschel. Gas molecules containing deuterium, a heavier version of hydrogen, emit light at longer, far-infrared wavelengths that Herschel is equipped to see. This enabled astronomers to measure the levels of hydrogen deuteride and obtain the weight of the disk with the highest precision yet.

“Knowing the mass of a planet-forming disk is crucial to understanding how and when planets take shape around other stars,” said Glenn Wahlgren, Herschel program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

Whether TW Hydrae’s large disk will lead to an exotic planetary system with larger and more numerous planets than ours remains to be seen, but the new information helps define the range of possible planet scenarios.

“The new results are another important step in understanding the diversity of planetary systems in our universe,” said Bergin. “We are now observing systems with massive Jupiters, super-Earths, and many Neptune-like worlds. By weighing systems at their birth, we gain insight into how our own solar system formed with just one of many possible planetary configurations.”

Herschel is a European Space Agency (ESA) cornerstone mission, with science instruments provided by a consortium of European institutes and with important participation by NASA. NASA’s Herschel Project Office is based at JPL, which contributed mission-enabling technology for two of Herschel’s three science instruments. NASA’s Herschel Science Center, part of the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena, supports the United States astronomical community. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

 




All of this week's top headlines to your email every Friday.


 
 

 

Headlines September 15, 2014

News: Navy identifies pilot presumed dead in crash - A Navy fighter pilot presumed dead after two fighter jets crashed in the far western Pacific Ocean has been identified.   Business: Boeing eyes 737-700 solution for new JSTARS - Boeing is officially planning a variant of its 737-700 commercial jetliner as a competitor for the Air Force’s...
 
 

News Briefs September 15, 2014

Australia contributing planes for anti-IS campaign Australia is preparing to contribute 600 troops and up to 10 military aircraft to the increasingly aggressive campaign against the Islamic State extremists in Syria and Iraq, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Sept. 14. Abbott said Australia was responding to a formal request from the United States for specific...
 
 
Courtesy graphic

Lockheed Martin conducts flight tests of aircraft laser turret for DARPA

AFRL photograph The Aero-adaptive Aero-optic Beam Control turret that Lockheed Martin is developing for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Air Force Research Laboratory has completed initial flight testing. T...
 

 

Lockheed Martin advances live, virtual, constructive training in flight test

https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=jvXmOW8L3mU Lockheed Martin successfully tested a new solution for integrated live, virtual and constructive training during a flight demonstration at the company’s Aeronautics facility in Fort Worth, Texas. During the flight test, a pilot flying in a live F-16 engaged in a synthetic training exercise with a pilot flying as wing...
 
 
Image courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover arrives at Martian mountain

NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover has reached the Red Planet’s Mount Sharp, a Mount-Rainier-size mountain at the center of the vast Gale Crater and the rover mission’s long-term prime destination. “Curiosity n...
 
 

Raytheon begins full rate production on TALON Laser Guided Rockets

Under a $117 million contract awarded to Raytheon, Raytheon Missile Systems has begun production of the TALON Laser Guided Rocket. In 2013, the Armed Forces General Headquarters of the United Arab Emirates awarded Tawazun a contract to procure the TALON Laser Guided Rocket. “Full rate production of the TALON LGR is a significant milestone for...
 




0 Comments


Be the first to comment!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>