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 August 28, 2014

News: After F-15 jet crash in Virginia, rescue helicopters search for pilot - Helicopters are searching for an Air National Guard pilot after his F-15 jet crashed in the mountains of Virginia this morning, military officials said.   Business: U.S. Air Force 3DELRR contract expected soon - The U.S. Air Force could award the contract for its...
 
 

News Briefs August 28, 2014

Russian directing new offensive in Ukraine The Obama administration believes Russia is leading a new military counteroffensive in Ukraine. U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki says Russia has sent additional columns of tanks and armored vehicles into its neighbor’s territory. She says the incursions suggest a ìRussian-directed counteroffensive is likely underway in the contested e...
 
 
LM-C5

Double Deuce

A U.S. Air Force crew ferried the 22nd C-5M Super Galaxy from the Lockheed Martin facilities in Marietta, Ga., Aug. 25. Aircraft 86-0011 was ferried by a crew led by Maj. Gen. Dwyer L. Dennis, Director, Global Reach Programs, O...
 

 
Northrop Grumman photograph

First ever RQ-4 Global Hawk hits 100th flight on NASA mission

Northrop Grumman photograph A historical look at the first Global Hawk (AV1) during its maiden flight over Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., on Feb. 28, 1998. AV1 has made history again with its 100th flight in support of NASA en...
 
 

Northrop Grumman’s CIRCM system completes U.S. Army flight testing

Northrop Grumman’s Common Infrared Countermeasures system recently completed another round of U.S. Army testing by demonstrating its capabilities on a UH-60M Black Hawk helicopter. The flight test was conducted at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Ala., by the Redstone Test Center. The Northrop Grumman CIRCM system was subjected to rigorous conditions over a six-week period, after...
 
 
NASA photograph by David Olive

NASA completes successful battery of tests on composite cryotank

https://www.youtube.com/embed/qkGI6JeNY0E?enablejsapi=1&rel=0 NASA photograph by David Olive One of the largest composite cryotanks ever built recently completed a battery of tests at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Cen...
 




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>