From ALMA: “Astronomers Found Spirals Inside a Dust Gap of a Young Star Forming Disk”

ESO/NRAO/NAOJ ALMA Array in Chile in the Atacama at Chajnantor plateau, at 5,000 metres

Ya-Wen Tang
Academia Sinica
Institute of Astrophysics and Astronomy
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Nicolás Lira T.
Press Coordinator
Joint ALMA Observatory
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Masaaki Hiramatsu

Education and Public Outreach Officer, NAOJ Chile
Tokyo, Japan

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Richard Hook
Public Information Officer, ESO

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Charles E. Blue
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National Radio Astronomy Observatory
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ALMA image of the dust ring (red) and gaseous spirals (blue) of the circumstellar disk AB Aurigae reveal gaseous spiral arms inside a wide dust gap, providing a hint of planet formation. Credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)/Tang et al.

Planets form within disks composed of dust grains and gas. Planets can gather dust grains from their orbits, resulting in dust gaps or cavities, and can also cause spiral waves within the parental disks based on theoretical predictions. To understand where and when planets can form at early stages, ALMA’s capability of seeing disk material with high resolution can depict smoking-gun evidence of infant planets hidden in disks.

Both dust gaps and spirals have been seen separately in a handful of disks. The new ALMA images of AB Aurigae clearly depict gas spirals inside a wide dust gap. These first reported gas spirals within a dust gap might indicate that there are at least 2 planets within this system. One planet at a distance of 80 astronomical units (au; the distance between the Sun and Earth) from the star is required to create the sharp dust ring. An additional planet at 30 au or closer from the star is required to produce such spirals.

These gas spirals further provide an additional dimension to our understanding of planet- disk interaction. Spirals previously seen in the near infrared image appear at the inner edge of the newly detected gas spirals. This can happen when the gas spirals are puffed up and thus scatter more stellar light at locations closer to the star. The kinematics of gas within the spirals mostly follows the disk rotation. It is only at the putative planet location at 30 au from the star that gas has higher velocities, suggesting streaming motions near the planet.

This research is presented in a paper titled Planet Formation in AB Aurigae: Imaging of the Inner Gaseous Spirals Observed inside the Dust Cavity by Y.-W. Tang et al., published in the Astrophysical Journal

See the full article here .

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The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), an international astronomy facility, is a partnership of Europe, North America and East Asia in cooperation with the Republic of Chile. ALMA is funded in Europe by the European Organization for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere (ESO), in North America by the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) in cooperation with the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) and the National Science Council of Taiwan (NSC) and in East Asia by the National Institutes of Natural Sciences (NINS) of Japan in cooperation with the Academia Sinica (AS) in Taiwan.

ALMA construction and operations are led on behalf of Europe by ESO, on behalf of North America by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), which is managed by Associated Universities, Inc. (AUI) and on behalf of East Asia by the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ). The Joint ALMA Observatory (JAO) provides the unified leadership and management of the construction, commissioning and operation of ALMA.

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