Tag Archives: solar system formation

A host of new solar systems

A gallery of baby solar systems

Worlds without end: Astronomers this month released a large collection of images taken during the past four years by the Gemini South Telescope in Chile of young stars that also have debris disks and are likely solar systems in the process of forming.

The image to the right, reduced slightly to post here, is only a sampling of the 26 disk systems found out of 104 young stars photographed. Go to the link to see some higher resolution examples.

Of the 26 images of debris disks obtained by the Gemini Planet Imager (GPI), 25 had “holes” around the central star that likely were created by planets sweeping up rocks and dust. Seven of the 26 were previously unknown; earlier images of the other 19 were not as sharp as those from GPI and often didn’t have the resolution to detect an inner hole. The survey doubles the number of debris disks imaged at such high resolution.

“One of the things we found is that these so-called disks are really rings with inner clearings,” said Esposito, who is also a researcher at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California. “GPI had a clear view of the inner regions close to the star, whereas in the past, observations by the Hubble Space Telescope and older instruments from the ground couldn’t see close enough to the star to see the hole around it.”

The data strongly confirms most theories about planet formation in these debris disks, as one of the youngest stars did not have any gaps in its disk, suggesting no larger bodies had yet formed to clear out a region.

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Diamonds from space!

Researchers have discovered nano-sized diamonds inside a recovered meteorite that suggest a formation process deep within a planet at least the size of Mercury.

The researchers used transmission electron microscopes to determine their composition and morphology, and found that the diamonds contained inclusions (impurities) made of chromite, phosphate and iron-nickel sulfides.

These inclusions are common in diamonds formed underground here on Earth, but this marks the first time they’ve been found in alien rocks. That’s interesting enough on its own, but it has much bigger implications – the team calculated that these diamonds could only have formed under pressure of more than 20 gigapascals. That means they must have been born inside a planet at least as big as Mercury, and possibly up to the size of Mars.

But there’s still more to the story. The fact these diamonds made it to Earth implies that their home planet, whatever it may have been, is no longer with us, since it would take quite a cataclysm to wrench them out of their birthplace deep underground and fling them into space. Instead, the team believes the diamonds came from a planetary embryo.

Not so fast. Though the researchers themselves, in the released paper, assume that the diamonds could only have formed from inside a now destroyed large planet, this leaves out the possibility that the diamonds formed inside one of the existing terrestrial planets, were moved upward toward the surface by later geological process (as happens to diamonds are here on Earth), and then were thrown from the planet by a later nearby impact. This scenario is just as likely.

Nonetheless, this discovery is fascinating. More than anything, it illustrates the inconceivable amount of time that has passed in creating our solar system. Any of these scenarios requires time, time in quantities that no human can really understand or conceptualize.

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Comet 67P/C-G unveils a scientific surprise

Data from Rosetta of Comet 67P/C-G strongly suggests that the origin of the comets of its class come from a wide range of locations within the early solar system, and that many of these comets might not have delivered the water to Earth as previously believed.

The data also suggests that the Earth’s water came more from asteroids, not comets, something that scientists had not expected.

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Spitzer spots asteroid collision

A monitoring program of a young star by the Spitzer Space Telescope has paid off with evidence of a major collision between asteroids in the debris disk that surrounds the star.

Scientists had been regularly tracking the star, called NGC 2547-ID8, when it surged with a huge amount of fresh dust between August 2012 and January 2013. “We think two big asteroids crashed into each other, creating a huge cloud of grains the size of very fine sand, which are now smashing themselves into smithereens and slowly leaking away from the star,” said lead author and graduate student Huan Meng of the University of Arizona, Tucson.

While dusty aftermaths of suspected asteroid collisions have been observed by Spitzer before, this is the first time scientists have collected data before and after a planetary system smashup. The viewing offers a glimpse into the violent process of making rocky planets like ours.

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