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New Discovery: A Possible Birth of Icy Giant Planet Detected

Sep 16, 2016 04:00 AM EDT
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TW Hydrae
This is the image of TW Hydrae that is retrieved from ALMA. The inset picture (upper right) zooms in to the gap nearest to the star, that has same distance of Earth from Sun, suggesting that a new planet is starting to form out of dust and gas.
(Photo : S. Andrews (Harvard-Smithsonian CfA), ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)/Wikimedia Commons)

A possible birth of a new planet has been detected from a nearby young star called TW Hydrae. This baby planet might just be starting to grow, but it's already becoming one ice giant that's possibly a little larger than Neptune.

Researchers led by Takashi Tsukagoshi of Ibaraki University in Japan, observed TW Hydrae to learn more about how planets can be formed. The researchers used the Atacama Larger Millimeter/submilliliter Array (ALMA) to gather the new data.

It's still unknown how icy giant planets such as Uranus and Neptune were formed. TW Hydrae, according to the researchers, is perfect to study about planet formation. It's closer to Earth as it is only 176 light-years away, a young star at only 10 million years old and has an axis that points to Earth, giving us a better view of the development of a possible planetary formation.

Previous studies about TW Hydrae show that the young star is surrounded by a disk of dust grains, where the disk is the formation site. Based on the surveys of ALMA, the disk has multiple gaps. Smaller dust grains are found in the gap of the disk while bigger dust grains are not found. The question now is, why are the dust grains distributed this way?

New models propose that the behavior of the dust grains is caused by their gravitational interaction with the giant planet's, according to a UPI report. Researchers predicted that gaps found in the disk are produced by massive planets. Gravitational force and friction between gas and dust grains push bigger dusts out of the disk while smaller dusts remains in the gap, Science Daily reports.

Meanwhile, the researchers were also able to determine how massive the baby planet is through analyzing the distribution of dust grains.

"Combined with the orbit size and the brightness of TW Hydrae, the planet would be an icy giant planet like Neptune," said Tsukagoshi.

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