European astronomers found similar features in all protoplanetary disks.

A group of European astronomers analyzed the mass distribution of 870 pro-planetary disks in the Orion A molecular cloud, a large collection of interstellar matter in the constellation Orion. Using statistics from this unprecedentedly large sample and developing innovative methods for processing the information, the scientists found that the rate of disk mass loss was dependent only on age, except under particularly challenging conditions such as proximity to the hottest stars. These results suggest that within at least 1,000 light-years of Earth, protoplanetary disks and planetary systems should have evolved in a similar fashion. An article about this was published in the journal. Astronomy and Astrophysics.

The question of what other planetary systems might look like, how they might differ from the solar system, and how unique they are is one of the most important in modern astronomical research. “Until now, we didn’t know for sure what processes dominated the evolution of disks that form planets around young stars,” explains Zirk van Terwisga, who led the research from the German Astronomical Institute of the Max Planck Society in Heidelberg. “Our new results show that, in environments without any extreme external influence, the observed disk mass available for the formation of new planets depends solely on the age of the system itself.”

A large and well-known region of young stars with protoplanetary disks, the Orion A cloud, located 1350 light-years from Earth, was chosen for the study. The Atacama Large Millimeter Array, located on the Chainantor Plateau in the Chilean Atacama Desert, was used to measure the mass of the discs. ALMA consists of 66 parabolic antennas that function as a single telescope with adjustable angular resolution. The scientists implemented an observation mode that allowed them to effectively aim each disk at a wavelength of about 1.2 mm. In this spectral range, the relatively cold disks are quite bright and the contribution of central stars is negligible. With this approach, astronomers were able to determine the mass of dust in the disks by sieving objects larger than a few millimeters, such as rocks and planets. Thus, it was possible to effectively measure the total mass of the matter of the planet-forming disks.

Source: Gazeta


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