Super-Earths and Neptune-sized planets could be forming in cosmic dust

Earths and Neptune-sized planets forming in dust
Earths and Neptune-sized planets forming in dust
(Image Credit: JPL NASA)

Super Earths and Neptune-sized planets might be forming around young stars in much bigger numbers than scientists thought, a new research by an international team of astronomers suggests.

The findings, based on a survey of young stars in a star-forming region in the constellation Taurus, showed many of them to be surrounded by structures that may best explained as traces created by invisible young planets in making.
This is fascinating because it’s the first time that exoplanet statistics, that suggest that super Earths and Neptunes are the most common kind of planets, coincide with observations of protoplanetary disks said lead author Feng Long, a doctoral student at Peking University in Beijing, China.

The research, revealed in the astrophysical Journal, helps scientists better understand how our own solar system came to be.

Using the Atacama massive millimetre Array, or ALMA, comprising forty five radio antennas in Chile’s Atacama Desert, the team performed a survey of young stars within the Taurus star-forming region, a vast cloud of gas and dust situated a modest 450 light-years from Earth.

When the researchers imaged thirty two stars surrounded by protoplanetary disks, they found that twelve of them, 40 percent, have rings and gaps, structures that according to the team’s measurements and calculations may be best explained by the presence of nascent planets.

The Neptune-sized gas planets or so-called super Earths, terrestrial planets of up to twenty Earth masses, were found to be the most common. only 2 of the observed disks might potentially harbour behemoths rivalling Jupiter, the biggest planet in the solar system.

Since most of the current exoplanet surveys cannot penetrate the thick dust of protoplanetary disks, all exoplanets, with one exception, are detected in more evolved systems where a disk isn’t any longer present, explained Paola Pinilla, from University of Arizona in the US.

“Our results are an exciting step in understanding this key part of planet formation and by creating these changes, we hope to better understand the origins of the rings and gaps,” Long said.

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