Astronomers detect planet forming disk orbiting twin suns

June 11th, 2009 - 2:47 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, June 11 (ANI): Astronomers have found a planet forming disk orbiting twin suns in images captured from radio telescopes.

The sequence of images, collected with the Smithsonian’s Submillimeter Array (SMA), provide an unusually vivid snapshot of the process of formation of giant planets, comets, and Pluto-like bodies.

The results also confirm that such objects may just as easily form around double stars as around single stars like our Sun.

According to Joel Kastner of the Rochester (NY) Institute of Technology, the lead scientist on the study, “We had the first evidence for this rotating disk in radio telescope observations of V4046 Sagittarii that we made last summer. But at that point, all we had were molecular spectra, and there are different ways to interpret the spectra.”

“Once we saw the image data from the SMA, there was no doubt that we have a rotating disk here,” he said.

“This is strong evidence that planets can form around binary stars, which expands the number of places we can look for extrasolar planets. Somewhere in our galaxy, an alien world may enjoy double sunrises and double sunsets,” said co-author David Wilner of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA).

According to UCLA graduate student David Rodriguez, the images clearly demonstrate that the molecular disk orbiting the V4046 Sagittarii binary system extends from within the approximate radius of Neptune’s orbit out to about 10 times that orbit.

This region corresponds to the zone where the solar system’s giant planets, as well as its Pluto-like Kuiper Belt objects, may have formed.

“We believe that V4046 Sagittarii provides one of the clearest examples yet discovered of a Keplerian, planet-forming disk orbiting a young star system,” Wilner said.

“This particular system is made that much more remarkable by the fact that it consists of a pair of solar-mass stars that are approximately 12 million years old and are separated by a mere 5 solar diameters,” he added.

“This could be the oldest known orbiting protoplanetary molecular disk. It shows that, at least for some stars, formation of Jovian-mass planets may continue well after a few million years, which astronomers have deduced is characteristic of the formation time for most such planets,” said Ben Zuckerman of UCLA.

The evidence for a molecular disk orbiting these twin young suns in the constellation Sagittarius suggested to the scientists that many such binary systems should also host as-yet-undetected planets. (ANI)

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