Scientists believe that they may have found a newborn planet hiding in the shadows belonging to the disk formation of another young star.
Shadows are not always what they may seem. And a shadow play may take place even at a cosmic level. More exactly, out in the vast, unknown space. And no one can account for this fact more than a team of scientists.
They are part of STScI in Baltimore, Maryland. STScI is the Space Telescope Science Institute, part of NASA. A team of its researchers is led by John Debes. The scientists could have made an important discovery.
They might have found a newborn planet lurking in the formation disk of another, also young star. This latter’s shadows hold the key to the mystery.
Space observations were carried out with the Hubble Telescope. This potential new planet is undetectable through the standard techniques. So the researchers took a different approach. They analyzed the shadows cast by the disk of the younger star. Its outer parts revealed some strange shadows of their own.
As it is, this method could prove to be invaluable in the future. It might prove its usefulness in future discoveries. Through it, science could come to detect other planets hidden within systems.
Space explorers are very aware of dim planets. These are astral objects notoriously hard to spot. They are usually in the shadows of their bright parent stars. As such, researchers have developed some tricks of their own.
They look for signs that indicate the presence of such stars. For example, they look for planets which seem to wobble. Or take a closer look at space objects which are sometimes dimmer.
This potential newborn planet was harder to spot. It is housed by the TW Hydrae stellar system. The system is situated about 192 light-years away from our planet.
TW Hydrae is circled by a protoplanetary disk. This latter is a disk of gas and dust. It is a quite common structure. Protoplanetary disks are often found around young stars. Under gravitational influences, they usually result in planets.
Traces of this newborn planet were first found in 2005. More than a decade ago, scientists noticed a “brightness asymmetry”. However, this sole observation was not enough. As such, the researchers started analyzing the Hubble-offered data.
The aforementioned team, led by Debes, studied the Hubble archives. As they gathered all relevant data, they found a surprising fact. This shadow had completed a revolution around the young star. The process took 16 years.
In space, this is quite a speedy process. And it was part of the needed proof. If the shadow had been part of the outer formation disk, it would not have moved as fast. On the contrary, Hubble would have had to feature centuries of data.
The revolution disk cleared the following fact. This shadow play was determined by something outside of the disk. It was not happening to the disk in itself.
As the shadow was very large, research led to further analysis. Not even a Jupiter-sized planet could cast such a colossal shadow. A most plausible explanation came as follows.
An unseen, newborn planet must be pulling at the disk. Its gravitational influence could be affecting the plane’s material. It may also be twisting and affecting the inner disk. More simply put, the young star has an oddly angled orbit. This was noted when it was compared to its disk.
The newborn planet may be dragging the disk’s gas and dust composition. As such, this composition movement casts a rotating shadow on the outer parts of the system.
Debes will continue analyzing the shadows. According to him, TW Hydrae holds some of the most planet formation data. Debes states that other systems exhibited similar traces. However, they still lack the needed information.
As such, the tea will continue collecting data. The research lead is optimistic on the matter. As time will pass, more information should be revealed.
The Hubble website holds more information on the matter. Debes and his tea also released a paper on it. This is titled “Chasing Shadows: Rotation of the Azimuthal Asymmetry in the TW Hya Disk”.
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