We Just Used an Innovative New Technique to Find 3 Newly Birthed Planets Near a Young Star

Wednesday, 13 June 2018 - 11:04AM
Wednesday, 13 June 2018 - 11:04AM
We Just Used an Innovative New Technique to Find 3 Newly Birthed Planets Near a Young Star
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Image credit: NRAO/AUI/NSF; S. Dagnello

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. 

There are several ways that astronomers hunt for planets.


Far off exoplanets are often found by using telescopes to check for dips in the brightness of parent stars. 


In the results of a new study published across two papers in the Astrophysical Journal Letters, researchers outlined the new method that they used to find three planets orbiting HD 163296, a star believed to have formed in our galaxy a short 4 million years ago.


"We looked at the localized, small-scale motion of gas in a star's protoplanetary disk," said University of Michigan astronomer and study principal author Richard Teague.


"This entirely new approach could uncover some of the youngest planets in our galaxy, all thanks to the high-resolution images coming from ALMA." 

By studying the motion and distribution of the carbon monoxide gas with ALMA, they were able to observe the light that the molecules emit.


"It would take a relatively massive object, like a planet, to create localized disturbances in this otherwise orderly motion," said Christophe Pinte, co-author of one of the papers.


"Our new technique applies this principle to help us understand how planetary systems form." 


ALMA's resolution allowed the astronomers to see the changes in carbon monoxide velocities very precisely, which helped them predict more about the planets orbiting HD 163296.


"We compared the observations with computer models to show that the observed flows fit beautifully with predictions for the flow pattern around a newborn planet a few times the mass of Jupiter," said coauthor Daniel Price

The researchers involved are excited about what the study and the new planet-hunting technique means for the future of the field. It is also promising for what it could teach us about how planets are formed.