Study of vortices in protoplanetary disks to measure and date exoplanets.
Astronomers have developed a new technique to measure and date infant exoplanets forming in protoplanetary disks. Using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile, researchers can observe “little hurricanes” within protoplanetary disks that are visible in ALMA data and use them to make educated guesses about the exoplanets that caused these vortices.
Instead of looking for transits, they are searching for unusual formations, such as arcs or clumps, that form in the protoplanetary disk. These formations are caused by dust particles that are concentrated in the centers of fluid vortices, essentially little hurricanes that can be triggered by a particular instability at the edges of the gaps carved in protoplanetary discs by planets. By studying the properties of the vortices, astronomers can estimate the age and mass of the exoplanet that created them.
The team’s research has been published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, providing two papers. One paper is about the vortices themselves, and the other is about using the vortices to measure and date exoplanets. By studying planet formation in other star systems, researchers may learn more about how our own solar system evolved.
The new technique developed by the team is an indirect form of observation that can be used to study exoplanets that are too distant from their stars to be seen clearly with traditional techniques. By combining their constraints with the limits provided by other methods, scientists can improve their understanding of planetary characteristics and planet formation pathways in these systems.
The research team’s new technique is an important step forward in learning about distant exoplanets and understanding how our own solar system evolved. By studying the vortices that form in protoplanetary disks, astronomers can estimate the age and mass of the exoplanets that create them, providing valuable insight into the formation of planets in other star systems.