Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Winking Star: First Step Of Earth-Like Planet Formation Observed

Date:
March 15, 2008
Source:
Wesleyan University
Summary:
For the first time, astronomers have observed the initial phase in the formation of an earth-like planet. Astronomers observed that a protoplanetary disk, or ring, around the binary star known as KH 15D, is composed of solid particles larger than what is usually observed in space. For hundreds of years, scientists have been theorizing that Earth-like planets form when gas and dust around a star get compressed into these disks and the material begins to coalesce into planets.

The binary stars orbit inside a protoplanetary disk or ring that extends out to roughly the size of Jupiter's orbit.
Credit: Image courtesy of Wesleyan University

For the first time, astronomers have observed the initial phase in the formation of an earth-like planet.

Related Articles


The discovery, highlighted in the March 13th issue of Nature, was documented by a team of astronomers led by William Herbst, the Van Vleck Professor of Astronomy professor at Wesleyan, and Catrina Hamilton PhD '03, professor of physics and astronomy at Dickinson College.

What Herbst and other astronomers on his team observed was that a protoplanetary disk, or ring, around the binary star known as KH 15D, is composed of solid particles larger than what is usually observed in space.

"For hundreds of years, scientists have been theorizing that Earth-like planets form when gas and dust around a star get compressed into these disks and the material begins to coalesce into planets. But until now we never had the ability to study this process in detail," Herbst said. "The unique geometry presented by KH 15D and the way the light was being reflected off the disk allowed us to get a good look at the structure of the disk .We were amazed at what we saw."

The disk orbiting KH 15D is at least the size of Jupiter's orbit and composed of sand-sized grains that have grown from microscopic-sized particles to form the larger grains. These grains are now approximately 1 mm in diameter, much larger than the tiny particles typically seen in space. This is also the characteristic size of "chondrules," small glassy spherules that are found in the most primitive solar system, the so-called carbonaceous chondrite meteorites.

The observations of the disk were made over several years using some of the largest telescopes in the world, including the 10-meter telescope of the W.M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii. More modest telescopes, including the one at Wesleyan University's Van Vleck observatory and the Maidanak Observatory in Uzbekistan, were also used in the study.

Located approximately 2,400 light years from earth and also known within the astronomical community as the "winking star," KH 15D was first documented in 1995 by Herbst and his then-graduate student Kristin Kearns. An ensuing Ph.D. thesis by Herbst student Catrina Hamilton, now on the faculty of Dickinson College, further solidified the importance of this star and brought it to the attention of the astronomical community. In 2004, two groups of astronomers on opposite coasts showed that KH 15D's winking was a result binary star with an orbiting period of 48.36 days within a large disk. The winking effect was generated as one of the stars alternately rose above and set below the disk.

What Herbst, Hamilton and the rest of the team observed recently is that the disk is slowly hiding the stars from view and putting them in a permanent state of faintness, though still visible by the reflection off the disk.

"Because of how the light is being reflected there are opportunities to make observations about the chemical composition of these sand-like particles," Herbst said. "That's very exciting because it opens up so many doors for new type of research on this disk."

Support for the work has come over the years from NASA's Origins of Solar Systems program and from the W. M. Keck Observatory Principal Investigator's Fund.

A Flash animation of what the team observed can be seen here: http://www.wesleyan.edu/newsrel/kh15d_animation.html


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Wesleyan University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Wesleyan University. "Winking Star: First Step Of Earth-Like Planet Formation Observed." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 15 March 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/03/080314163401.htm>.
Wesleyan University. (2008, March 15). Winking Star: First Step Of Earth-Like Planet Formation Observed. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 3, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/03/080314163401.htm
Wesleyan University. "Winking Star: First Step Of Earth-Like Planet Formation Observed." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/03/080314163401.htm (accessed March 3, 2015).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Space & Time News

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Raw: SpaceX Launches Rocket, Satellites on Board

Raw: SpaceX Launches Rocket, Satellites on Board

AP (Mar. 2, 2015) SpaceX launched it&apos;s 16th Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida on Sunday night. The rocket was carrying two commercial communications satellites. (March 2) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Astronauts Leave Space Station for Third Spacewalk

Astronauts Leave Space Station for Third Spacewalk

Reuters - News Video Online (Mar. 1, 2015) NASA Commander Barry Wilmore and Flight Engineer Terry Virts perform their third spacewalk in eight days outside the International Space Station. Rough Cut (no reporter narration). Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Spacesuit Water Leaks Not An Issue On Latest ISS Walk

Spacesuit Water Leaks Not An Issue On Latest ISS Walk

Newsy (Mar. 1, 2015) Astronauts are ahead of schedule with hardware upgrades to the International Space Station, despite last week&apos;s spacesuit water leak scare. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Nitrogen-Based Life Might Swim On Saturn's Largest Moon

Nitrogen-Based Life Might Swim On Saturn's Largest Moon

Newsy (Feb. 28, 2015) Researchers at Cornell University theorize life might exist on Saturn’s largest moon as nitrogen-based organisms. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Space & Time

Matter & Energy

Computers & Math

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins