Jun 30, 2020 - Science

Photos reveal dusty star systems giving birth to planets

The dusty new planetary systems

The dusty new planetary systems. Photo: Thomas Esposito/UC Berkeley

A series of photos of young stars with disks of planet-forming debris around them shows the rich diversity of how distant worlds form in our galaxy.

Why it matters: Researchers have been piecing together how our solar system came to be for decades, but being able to look out at other stars with their own new systems of planets can help turn back the clock to understand the evolution of our solar system and others like never before.

What they found: Taken over the course of four years by the Gemini Planet Imager (GPI) in Chile, the photos represent some of the sharpest images of their kind yet taken.

  • Scientists are able to use these images to see gaps in the disks of debris around stars that represent newly forming planets clearing space for themselves in orbit.
  • The instrument captured 26 images of debris disks, and 25 of them had these holes that likely indicate planet formation around their stars.
  • 75 of the 104 stars GPI observed as part of the project had no disks that could be detected by the instrument, and three stars likely had protoplanetary disks, precursors to planetary formation, according to a statement from Berkeley.

The big picture: “If you dial back the clock for our own solar system by 4.5 billion years, which one of these disks were we?" Paul Kalas, one of the authors of the new study detailing the images, said in the statement.

  • "Were we a narrow ring, or were we a fuzzy blob?” Kalas said. “It would be great to know what we looked like back then to understand our own origins. That is the great unanswered question.”
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