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New observations of a ‘dust trap’ around a young star solve long-standing planet formation mystery

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Posted June 7, 2013
This artist's impression shows the dust trap in the system Oph-IRS 48. The dust trap provides a safe haven for the tiny rocks in the disc, allowing them to clump together and grow to sizes that allow them to survive on their own. Credit: ESO/L. Calçada

This artist’s impression shows the dust trap in the system Oph-IRS 48. The dust trap provides a safe haven for the tiny rocks in the disc, allowing them to clump together and grow to sizes that allow them to survive on their own. Credit: ESO/L. Calçada

Astronomers using the new Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array have imaged a region around a young star where dust particles can grow by clumping together. This is the first time that such a dust trap has been clearly observed and modeled. It solves a long-standing mystery about how dust particles in discs grow to larger sizes so that they can eventually form comets, planets and other rocky bodies.

 

Astronomers now know that planets around other stars are plentiful. But they do not fully understand how they form and there are many aspects of the formation of comets, planets and other rocky bodies that remain a mystery. However, new observations exploiting the power of ALMA are now answering one of the biggest questions: how do tiny grains of dust in the disc around a young star grow bigger and bigger—to eventually become rubble, and even boulders well beyond a metre in size?

Computer models suggest that dust grains grow when they collide and stick together. However, when these bigger grains collide again at high speed they are often smashed to pieces and sent back to square one. Even when this does not happen, the models show that the larger grains would quickly move inwards because of friction between the dust and gas and fall onto their parent star, leaving no chance that they could grow even further.

Somehow the dust needs a safe haven where the particles can continue growing until they are big enough to survive on their own. Such “dust traps” have been proposed, but there was no observational proof of their existence up to now.

Read more at: Phys.org

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