When it comes to searching for newly born planets that are tens, if not hundreds, if not thousands of light-years away, astrorons are not often lucky.
Planets form in thick clouds of dust and gas known as protoplanetary disks that orbit a star. So it's very difficult to observe young planets right through all of this. Instead, scientists must rely on clues that could indicate the presence of a protoplanet, but most of these clues are rather indirect at best.
< p id="lastbig">
The study was published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.
But Feng Long, a researcher at the Center for Astrophysics at the Harvard and Smithsonian Institutions, has discovered a new clue that could indicate the existence of a protoplanet: material in Lagrange points.
< p>While reviewing data from the Chilean ALMA observatory on the protoplanetary disk LkCa 15, located about 518 light-years away, she noticed “a dusty ring with two separate and bright clumps of matter orbiting inside it.”
“One of these tufts stretched out in an arc, and the other took on a lumpy shape. This arc and lump are separated by about 120 degrees. This degree of separation doesn't just happen – it's mathematically important,” Long said in a statement.
This angle assumes that two groups of material are located at two Lagrange points. When two celestial bodies, such as a star and a planet, are gravitationally bound, there are five points in space where their gravity and orbital motion almost cancel each other out. At these Lagrange points, called L1 to L5, the material stays in place, essentially frozen into space. Based on the observed 120-degree angle between the clumps of material, Long suspects that they are located at L4 and L5, with the planet at a 60-degree angle between them.
“We see that this material is not just free floating, it is stable and has a preference for where it wants to be located based on the physics and objects involved,” Long said.
Current astronomical technology does not allow Long to confirm her hypothesis, but she suspects that further ALMA observations of LkCa 15 may provide additional evidence to support her. Until then, Long hopes others will use her Lagrangian debris search method to find more potential protoplanets.
Cursor previously wrote that astronomers have revealed when a pair of supermassive black holes might collide. The strange behavior of a galaxy a billion light-years away suggests that one of the most anticipated events in modern astronomy may occur in it.
Scientists have been reported to have revealed whether the Earth might leave our solar system. Astronomers say that the planets as they exist now are in stable orbits around the Sun, but an event could occur that will change everything.