Astronomers find warped protoplanetary disk around distant star

by Samuel Abasi Posted on January 8th, 2019

Researchers in Japan have identified a young star with an already warped protoplanetary disk. The discovery could help scientists better understand how planets come to travel in slightly askew orbital planes.

Until now, astronomers assumed the sometimes off-kilter orbital planes of planets is caused by the gravitational influences of larger planets. In other words, the feature is acquired, not innate.

But using observations from the ALMA radio observatory in Chile, researchers at RIKEN located a warped disk around a protostar, L1527.

The star and its disk are enveloped in the thick gas of the Taurus Molecular Cloud some 450 light-years from Earth. Researchers were able to observe the infant star and its disk using far-infrared observations.

The ALMA data showed the star’s disk can be divided into two parts. The inner and outer parts of the disk are orbiting in distinct planes.

“Warped disk structures have been reported in some transition disks and protoplanetary disks — much elder than L1527 system — but not in the earlier stages of protostar evolution,” Nami Sakai, chief scientist at RIKEN’s Star and Planet Formation Laboratory, told UPI.

Whether or not the protoplanetary disk is beginning to form planets depends on how planet formation is defined. Researchers measured changes in dust size, but can’t confirm the aggregation of larger pebbles or rocks.

“Since L1527 disk is really young, still growing, still embedded in dense cloud, and just after the formation, even only the start of the dust-growth around the border of the inner and outer disk is surprising,” Sakai said.

Researchers published their analysis of L1527 in the journal Nature.

Image: An infrared image of the infant star L1527 captured by the Spitzer Space Telescope. Photo by J. Tobin/NASA/JPL-Caltech

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