A new study published in the Astrophysical Journal revealed that Super-Earth and Neptune-sized planets form around young stars in the Universe in higher numbers than the scientists believed. The researchers analyzed a series of young stars in a star-forming region in the constellation Taurus and discovered many structures in the protoplanetary disk that can only be the evidence of invisible, young planets in the making.
When our Sun formed about 4.6 billion years ago, it was surrounded by a swirling disk of matter, including dust and gas. In its early days, the so-called protoplanetary disk has nothing particular to reveal. However, over time, some regions of this disk began to show some structures like clumps of matter. Those formations became the planets as we know them today.
Observing the protoplanetary disks surrounding 32 young stars in the Taurus constellation, the scientists noticed that 12 of them present rings and gaps which hint to the presence of nascent planets.
Super-Earth and Neptune-Sized Planets Form Around Young Stars In High Numbers
“This is fascinating because it is the first time that exoplanet statistics, which suggest that super-Earths and Neptunes are the most common type of planets, coincide with observations of protoplanetary disks,” said Feng Long from the Kavli Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics at Peking University in Bejing, China.
“Most previous observations had been targeted to detect the presence of very massive planets, which we know are rare, that had carved out large inner holes or gaps in bright disks. While massive planets had been inferred in some of these bright disks, little had been known about the fainter disks,” also said Paola Pinilla from the University of Arizona’s Steward Observatory. “Since most of the current exoplanet surveys can’t penetrate the thick dust of protoplanetary disks, all exoplanets, with one exception, have been detected in more evolved systems where a disk is no longer present,” the researcher added.
“Our results are an exciting step in understanding this key phase of planet formation, and by making these adjustments, we are hoping to understand the origins of the rings and gaps better,” concluded Long.
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