On December 11, US astronomers reported that they were able to detect a cluster of Pluto-size protoplanets orbiting HD 107146, a star very similar to our Sun, located 90 light-years away from Earth.
For their observations, scientists used a very precise telescope called Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) located in the Atacama Desert, Chile. The ALMA telescope lies on a platform 3.1 miles above sea level and it has about 66 antennas that use (sub)millimeter wave-lengths to detect remote space objects.
HD 107146 is a yellow, relatively young star located 90 light-years away in Coma Berenices constellation. It is 100 million years old, while our sun is about 3.6 billion years old. Scientists say that HD 107146 could help them understand how our sun and planets orbiting around it were born since HD represents the missing link between our solar system’s early stages and its final stages.
The remote star has a magnitude of 7 meaning that it needs at least a small telescope to be seen.
Dr Luca Ricci and his team have noticed an unusually dense cluster of dust grains at the edges of HD 107146’s disk. The cluster is located very far from the star, about 8.07 billion miles away. Scientists believe that the dust grains were pushed towards the exterior of their host star’s disk by the gravitational field of nearly 3,000 Pluto-size planetesimals. These planetesimals are believed to cause smaller object collide and diffuse in space.
Planetesimals are continuously forming young planets, or protoplanets, by colliding cosmic dust grains.
“The dust in HD 107146 reveals this very interesting feature – it gets thicker in the very distant outer reaches of the star’s disk. The surprising aspect is that this is the opposite of what we see in younger primordial disks where the dust is denser near the star,”
Dr Ricci said.
Researchers believe that ALMA telescope caught HD 107146 when Pluto-sized protoplanets have already formed in its inner protoplanetary disk, while others are just now forming in its outer disk. The new protoplanets’ activity is marked by the dense cluster of cosmic dust grains.
ALMA also revealed another interesting feature in HD 107146’s disk – an about 7.5 million miles wide depression in its outer reaches. Astronomers say that this gap in the disk may signal the presence of an Earth-like planet that cleans the area of debris through its gravitational force. Scientists now believe that this planet’s current position suggests that Earth-like planets could form in totally different orbits than previous expected.
Image Source: Wikipedia
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