For years, ALMA-one of the most complex astronomical observatories on the planet-has transformed our understanding of protoplanetary disks: rotating circumstellar plates of dense gas and dust surrounding newly formed stars.
However, instead of studying these gaps, both research teams instead analyzed the motion of carbon monoxide, which usually moves in a predictable way unless it comes into contact with gravitational obstacles - a planet for example. These type of techniques are not well to study of the protoplanetary disks, and they are filled with rocks gas and dust. The rings and gaps in these disks provide intriguing circumstantial evidence for the presence of planets.
Using revolutionary new planet-finding techniques and data from the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in northern Chile, two teams of astronomers have discovered a total of three young planets orbiting a young star just 330 light-years from Earth.
The team, led by Richard Teague, an astronomer at the University of MI, found a pair of Jupiter-massed protoplanets located 7.4 billion miles (12 billion km) and 13 billion miles (21 million km) from the host star-that's 80 and 140 times the distance from the Earth to the Sun (AU), respectively.
All three planets have a similar mass to Jupiter.
"It would take a relatively massive object, like a planet, to create localized disturbances in this otherwise orderly motion", explains Monash University's Christophe Pinte, lead author of the second paper.
The two teams plan to apply their planet discovery technique to other protoplanetary discs.
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Astronomers have discovered more than 3,700 confirmed exoplanets in the last few decades, but studying the origins of exoplanets is still hard. One of them is located 80 astronomical units (au) away from the star, while the other is at 140 au. As planets are always surrounded with gas and dust which forms an atmosphere around them causing them hard to pinpoint in the vast galaxy.
Specifically, the researchers looked for subtle changes in the levels of carbon monoxide (CO) in high-res images captured by ALMA. Another group under the leadership of Pinto identified the planet at a distance of about 39 billion kilometers from its parent star.
Circling HD 163296 is a protoplanetary disc, a ring of gas and dust found around young stars.
Richard Teague et al. "This technique offers a promising new direction to understand how planetary systems form".
These initial observations, however, merely provided circumstantial evidence and could not be used to accurately estimate the masses of the planets. "It is therefore crucial to study kinematics of gas to better understand what is happening in the disks we observe". A single AU is the distance of the Earth from the Sun.
The researchers detailed their discoveries in two papers published Wednesday in the journal Astrophysical Journal Letters. These proto-systems will eventually flourish into fully-formed planetary systems, much like our own, but at the moment detecting planets in such an early stage of evolution has proven incredibly hard and as yet, there have been no unambiguous detections before now. "A Kinematic Detection of Two Unseen Jupiter Mass Embedded Protoplanets", by R. Teague et al.
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