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Observing planet formation at close range: the Gemini Planet Imager view of the TW Hya disk

22 Dec 2015, 23:11 UTC
Observing planet formation at close range: the Gemini Planet Imager view of the TW Hya disk
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Investigations of star and planet formation have long focused on the rich stellar nurseries of Taurus, Ophiuchus, Chamaeleon, and a handful of similarly nearby, lower-mass molecular clouds. These regions, which lie just beyond 100 pc, are collectively host to hundreds of low-mass, pre-main sequence (T Tauri) stars with ages of a few million years and less. They hence provide large samples of stars with orbiting circumstellar disks that span a wide range of evolutionary stages.
Examples of protoplanetary disks that lie closer than ~100 pc to Earth are far fewer and farther between. However — because their proximity affords the maximum possible linear spatial resolution — these nearby disks provide unique opportunities to test theories describing the planet formation process (see http://cosmicdiary.org/geminiplanetimager/2015/09/16/what-do-we-know-about-planet-formation/). Furthermore, the T Tauri star-disk systems within 100 pc of the Sun tend to be older, on average, than the large numbers of star-disk systems that are still found in or near their natal dark clouds. Hence, circumstellar disks orbiting the nearest known young stars are particularly informative about the late stages of planet formation, as disks disperse and any planets born therein are reaching their final masses (for a brief overview of the study of nearby young ...

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