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Planet-hosting star gives up its innermost secrets

15 September 2015

Astronomers have successfully peered through the ‘amniotic sac’ of a star that is still forming to observe the innermost region of a burgeoning solar system for the first time

In a research paper published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, an international team of astronomers describe surprising findings in their observations of the parent star, which is called HD 100546. Emission from the innermost part of the disk of gas that surrounds the central star has been detected for the first time. Unexpectedly, this emission is similar to that of ‘barren’ young stars that do not show any signs of active planet formation.

HD 100546 is a young star (only a thousandth of the age of the Sun) surrounded by a disk-shaped structure of gas and dust, called a ‘proto-planetary disk’, in which planets can form. Such disks are common around young stars, but the one around HD 100546 is very peculiar: if the star were placed at the centre of our Solar System, the outer part of the disk would extend up to around ten times the orbit of Pluto.

Lead author of the research paper Dr Ignacio Mendigutía and a co-author, Professor Rene Oudmaijer, both from the School of Physics and Astronomy at Leeds, believe that these observations of the inner disk of gas in the HD 100546 system, are beginning to help us to understand the earliest life of planet-hosting stars on a scale that is comparable to our Solar System.

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The image shows an artist's impression ofthe star called HD 100546 (shown in blue, bottom-right). The gravitational influence of a planet could be boosting a transfer of material from the gas-rich outer part of the proto-planetary disk that surrounds the star to the inner regions.

Credit: David Cabezas Jimeno (SEA)