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Spring Cleaning in an Infant Star System
Monday, 03 April 2017

This image depicts the dusty disc encircling the young, isolated star HD 169142. The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) imaged this disc in high resolution by picking up faint signals from its constituent millimetre-sized dust grains. The vivid rings are thick bands of dust, separated by deep gaps.

Optimised to study the cold gas and dust of systems like HD 169142, ALMA’s sharp eyes have revealed the structure of many infant solar systems with similar cavities and gaps. A variety of theories have been proposed to explain them — such as turbulence caused by magnetorotational instability, or the fusing of dust grains — but the most plausible explanation is that these pronounced gaps were carved out by giant protoplanets.

When solar systems form gas and dust coalesce into planets. These planets then effectively spring clean their orbits, clearing them of gas and dust and herding the remaining material into well-defined bands. The deep gaps seen in this image are consistent with the presence of multiple protoplanets — a finding that agrees with other optical and infrared studies of the same system.

Observing such dusty protoplanetary discs with ALMA allows scientists to investigate the first steps of planet formation in a bid to unveil the evolutionary paths of these infant systems.

Spring Cleaning in an Infant Star System

Credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)/ Fedele et al. | Download image


INAF press release (Italian). Credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)/ Fedele et al.

Additional information

The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), an international astronomy facility, is a partnership of the European Organisation for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere (ESO), the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Natural Sciences (NINS) of Japan in cooperation with the Republic of Chile. ALMA is funded by ESO on behalf of its Member States, by NSF in cooperation with the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) and the National Science Council of Taiwan (NSC) and by NINS in cooperation with the Academia Sinica (AS) in Taiwan and the Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute (KASI).

ALMA construction and operations are led by ESO on behalf of its Member States; by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), managed by Associated Universities, Inc. (AUI), on behalf of North America; and by the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ) on behalf of East Asia. The Joint ALMA Observatory (JAO) provides the unified leadership and management of the construction, commissioning and operation of ALMA.


Nicolás Lira T.
Press Coordinator
Joint ALMA Observatory
Santiago, Chile
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Email: nicolas.lira@alma.cl

Richard Hook
Public Information Officer, ESO

Garching bei München, Germany

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Email: rhook@eso.org

Masaaki Hiramatsu

Education and Public Outreach Officer, NAOJ Chile
Tokyo, Japan

Tel: +81 422 34 3630

E-mail: hiramatsu.masaaki@nao.ac.jp

Charles E. Blue
Public Information Officer
National Radio Astronomy Observatory
Charlottesville, Virginia, USA
Tel: +1 434 296 0314
Cell: +1 202 236 6324
E-mail: cblue@nrao.edu