Planet Forming Supersonic Rain
Swirling disc of gas & dust surrounds a developing star (Illustration: NASA/JPL-Caltech)
Water from space is 'raining' onto a planet-forming disc at supersonic speeds, new observations from the Spitzer Space Telescope reveal. The unprecedented detail of the observations at this early stage of the disc's formation could help reveal which of two competing theories of planet formation is correct.
Planets form when matter clumps together in swirling discs of gas and dust, called protoplanetary discs, around infant stars. But many details of how this works are still not known. For example, some scientists think giant planets can form in just a few thousand years, while others argue it takes millions of years.
Now, astronomers led by Dan Watson of the University of Rochester in New York, have gained an unprecedented view of a protoplanetary disc at the young age of just a few hundred thousand years old.
They used the Spitzer Space Telescope to examine the spectrum of infrared light coming from the vicinity of an embryonic star called IRAS 4B, which lies about 1000 light years from Earth.
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