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Planet Mimicry: Disk Patterns in Infant Systems

22 Jan 2018, 17:34 UTC
Planet Mimicry: Disk Patterns in Infant Systems
(200 words excerpt, click title or image to see full post)

The wrong initial assumption can easily lead anyone down a blind alley. The problem comes across loud and clear in new work from Marc Kuchner (NASA GSFC) and colleagues, which Kuchner presented at the recent meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Washington. At issue is the matter of the disks of gas and dust around young stars, in many of which we can find patterns such as rings, arcs and spirals that suggest the formation of planets.
But are such patterns sure indicators or merely suggestions? Kuchner’s team has been looking at the question for several years now, presenting in a 2013 paper the possibility that a phenomenon called photoelectric instability (PeI) can explain the narrow rings we see in some disk systems. PeI happens when high-energy ultraviolet light strikes dust and ice grains, stripping away electrons. The electrons then strike and heat gas in the disk, causing gas pressure to increase and more dust to be trapped. Rings can form that begin to oscillate, along with arcs and clumps — bright, moving sources of light that could be mistaken for planets.
Photoelectric instability is a cascading phenomenon as rising gas pressure affects the orbiting dust, with clumps forming ...

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