Friday, October 21, 2011

Spiral arms in disk suggests unseen planets

This image of the disk that is in orbit about the young star SAO 206462 suggests that this disk might be perturbed by one or more unseen planets. This image was acquired at the Japenese Subaru telescope in Hawaii by Carol Grady (Eureka Scientific). In this image, the central star is deliberately masked by the telescope's optics, which revealing a broad disk of gas and dust in orbit about the star. The size of this disk is at least twice the diameter of our Solar System. Planets are known to form in these circumstellar disks, and computer simulations of this process show that a young giant planet can also launch spiral density waves in such a disk. So this disk's spiral appearance does suggest that giant planets may have formed here. But keep in mind that this is not the only explanation. For instance, the gravity of passing star can also disturb a disk, and such a disturbance would wind-up over time and also resemble a spiral. But further study of this system may one day reveal whether the disk at SAO 206462 is indeed planet forming. See this press release for more details.

No comments: