Astronomers explained that the Earth-like planets’ gravitational pull is strong enough to form those patterns within the thick gas clouds. The finding may prove useful in identifying elusive planets around newborn stars.
Despite their intensive work to find and classify new planets and their stars, astronomers have little details on how stars really form. They say that stars emerge in so called circumstellar disks, or thick disks of stellar dust and gas around their host stars.
Researchers now believe that changes in the looks of a circumstellar disk may be a sign that a planet is present. The research team based their findings on computer simulations of how the gas cloud changes around a young star.
Ruobing Dong, lead-author of the study and researcher at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, explained that it is difficult to detect a planet inside a bright circumstellar disk with our instruments. He also added that computer models revealed that hidden planets may trigger large structures in the disk through their gravity.
Dong also said that the huge patterns within a dust-and-gas disk triggered by underlying planets could be the ‘smoking gun’ of planetary presence. The new findings may prove helpful in the search for other planets, especially Earth-like planets.
Researchers explained that hidden planets form gaps within the circumstellar disk around their host star. But gaps are not enough to signal the presence of a planet.
Additionally, if there are multiple underlying planets, they would open a single gap. So telling how many planets are associated with that gap may prove challenging.
Dong noted that scientists have long noticed large spiral-shaped patterns around newborn stars, but they were unable to tell how they were created.
For instance, recently telescopes detected the structures in a couple of stars, MWC 758 and SAO 206462, which scientists used in their modeling. Plus, the patterns were also observed in the gas clouds around nearby stars.
Study investigators argued that if the clouds were too massive, they would have become gravitationally unstable and the planets within them would not be able to create the huge patterns. But because in the two stars the mass of the circumstellar disks is not larger than a few percent of their star’s mass, the disks are stable enough to allow the formation of patterns.
Computer models generated spiral-shaped structures within the stellar gas clouds just like in the data ground instruments had gathered.
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