From ALMA: “ALMA Captures Stirred-Up Planet Factory”

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


3 August, 2020

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ALMA image of the planet-forming disk around the young star RU Lup, showing a giant set of spiral arms made out of gas. The structure extends to nearly 1000 astronomical units from the star. Credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), J. Huang; NRAO/AUI/NSF, S. Dagnello

ALMA image of the planet-forming disk around the young star RU Lup. The inset image (lower left, red disk) shows a previous (DSHARP) observation of the dust disk with rings and gaps that hint at the presence of forming planets. The new observation shows a large spiral structure (in blue), made out of gas, that spans far beyond the compact dust disk. Credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), J. Huang and S. Andrews; NRAO/AUI/NSF, S. Dagnello

RU Lup is a young, variable star. It is located in Lupus (wolf), a constellation in the Southern Sky. The star is not visible with the naked eye. Credit: IAU; Sky & Telescope magazine; NRAO/AUI/NSF, S. Dagnello

Planet-forming environments can be much more complex and chaotic than previously expected. This is evidenced by a new image of the star RU Lup, made with the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA).

All planets, including the ones in our Solar System, are born in disks of gas and dust around stars, so-called protoplanetary disks. Thanks to ALMA we have stunning high-resolution images of many of these planet factories, showing dusty disks with multiple rings and gaps that hint at the presence of emerging planets. The most famous examples of these are HL Tau and TW Hydrae.

Left: This is a composite image of the young star HL Tauri and its surroundings using data from ALMA (enlarged in box at upper right) and the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope (rest of the picture). This is the first ALMA image where the image sharpness exceeds that normally attained with Hubble. Credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)/NASA/ESA
Right: This image compares the size of the Solar System with HL Tauri and its surrounding protoplanetary disc. Although the star is much smaller than the Sun, the disc around HL Tauri stretches out to almost three times as far from the star as Neptune is from the Sun. Credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)

ALMA image of the planet-forming disk around the young, Sun-like star TW Hydrae. The inset image (upper right) zooms in on the gap nearest to the star, which is at the same distance as the Earth is from the Sun, suggesting an infant version of our home planet could be emerging from the dust and gas. The additional concentric light and dark features represent other planet-forming regions farther out in the disk. Credit: S. Andrews (Harvard-Smithsonian CfA), ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)

But disks are not necessarily as neatly arranged as these initial dust observations suggest. A new ALMA image of RU Lup, a young variable star in the Lupus constellation, revealed a giant set of spiral arms made of gas, extending far beyond its more well-known dust disk. This spiral structure – resembling a ‘mini-galaxy’ – extends to nearly 1000 astronomical units (au) from the star, much farther away than the compact dust disk that extends to about 60 au.

Previous observations of RU Lup with ALMA, which were part of the Disk Substructures at High Angular Resolution Project (DSHARP), already revealed signs of ongoing planet formation, hinted by the dust gaps in its protoplanetary disk. “But we also noticed some faint carbon monoxide (CO) gas structures that extended beyond the disk. That’s why we decided to observe the disk around the star again, this time focusing on the gas instead of the dust,” said Jane Huang of the Center for Astrophysics, Harvard & Smithsonian (CfA) and lead author on a paper published today in The Astrophysical Journal.

The team is composed of Jane Huang, Sean M. Andrews, Karin I. Öberg and David J. Wilner (Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian), Megan Ansdell (NASA HQ), Myriam Benisty (Universidad de Chile/IPAG France), John M. Carpenter (Joint ALMA Observatory Chile), Andrea Isella (Rice University), Laura M. Pérez (Universidad de Chile), Luca Ricci (California State University Northridge), Jonathan P. Williams (University of Hawaii), and Zhaohuan Zhu (University of Nevada).

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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