Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Planets can form in the galactic center

Date:
September 11, 2012
Source:
Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
Summary:
At first glance, the center of the Milky Way seems like a very inhospitable place to try to form a planet. Powerful gravitational forces from a supermassive black hole twist and warp the fabric of space itself. Yet new research by astronomers at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics shows that planets still can form in this cosmic maelstrom.

In this artist's conception, a protoplanetary disk of gas and dust (red) is being shredded by the powerful gravitational tides of our galaxy's central black hole.
Credit: David A. Aguilar (CfA)

At first glance, the center of the Milky Way seems like a very inhospitable place to try to form a planet. Stars crowd each other as they whiz through space like cars on a rush-hour freeway. Supernova explosions blast out shock waves and bathe the region in intense radiation. Powerful gravitational forces from a supermassive black hole twist and warp the fabric of space itself.

Yet new research by astronomers at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics shows that planets still can form in this cosmic maelstrom. For proof, they point to the recent discovery of a cloud of hydrogen and helium plunging toward the galactic center. They argue that this cloud represents the shredded remains of a planet-forming disk orbiting an unseen star.

"This unfortunate star got tossed toward the central black hole. Now it's on the ride of its life, and while it will survive the encounter, its protoplanetary disk won't be so lucky," said lead author Ruth Murray-Clay of the CfA. The results are appearing in the journal Nature.

The cloud in question was discovered last year by a team of astronomers using the Very Large Telescope in Chile. They speculated that it formed when gas streaming from two nearby stars collided, like windblown sand gathering into a dune.

Murray-Clay and co-author Avi Loeb propose a different explanation. Newborn stars retain a surrounding disk of gas and dust for millions of years. If one such star dived toward our galaxy's central black hole, radiation and gravitational tides would rip apart its disk in a matter of years.

They also identify the likely source of the stray star -- a ring of stars known to orbit the galactic center at a distance of about one-tenth of a light-year. Astronomers have detected dozens of young, bright O-type stars in this ring, which suggests that hundreds of fainter Sun-like stars also exist there. Interactions between the stars could fling one inward along with its accompanying disk.

Although this protoplanetary disk is being destroyed, the stars that remain in the ring can hold onto their disks. Therefore, they may form planets despite their hostile surroundings.

As the star continues its plunge over the next year, more and more of the disk's outer material will be torn away, leaving only a dense core. The stripped gas will swirl down into the maw of the black hole. Friction will heat it to high enough temperatures that it will glow in X-rays.

"It's fascinating to think about planets forming so close to a black hole," said Loeb. "If our civilization inhabited such a planet, we could have tested Einstein's theory of gravity much better, and we could have harvested clean energy from throwing our waste into the black hole."

Headquartered in Cambridge, Mass., the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) is a joint collaboration between the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and the Harvard College Observatory. CfA scientists, organized into six research divisions, study the origin, evolution and ultimate fate of the universe.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Ruth A. Murray-Clay, Abraham Loeb. Disruption of a proto-planetary disc by the black hole at the milky way centre. Nature Communications, 2012; 3: 1049 DOI: 10.1038/ncomms2044

Cite This Page:

Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. "Planets can form in the galactic center." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 11 September 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/09/120911151936.htm>.
Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. (2012, September 11). Planets can form in the galactic center. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 17, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/09/120911151936.htm
Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. "Planets can form in the galactic center." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/09/120911151936.htm (accessed April 17, 2014).

Share This



More Space & Time News

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

New Baby Moon 'Peggy' Spotted In Saturn's Rings

New Baby Moon 'Peggy' Spotted In Saturn's Rings

Newsy (Apr. 15, 2014) A bump in the rings could be a half-mile-wide miniature moon. It was found by accident in Cassini probe images. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Americas Glimpse Total Lunar Eclipse

Americas Glimpse Total Lunar Eclipse

AFP (Apr. 15, 2014) A total lunar eclipse, the first since December 2011, took place early Tuesday morning with the Americas getting the best glimpse. Duration: 1:19 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
NASA Showcases Lunar Eclipse

NASA Showcases Lunar Eclipse

AP (Apr. 15, 2014) Star gazers in parts of North and South America got a rare treat early Tuesday morning - a total eclipse of the moon. (April 15) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Spacecrafts Could Use Urine As Fuel Source

Spacecrafts Could Use Urine As Fuel Source

Newsy (Apr. 15, 2014) New research says the urea from urine could be recycled for fuel. Urea is filtered out of wastewater when making drinking water. 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:
from the past week

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