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Low-mass star simulations favour water-rich, Earth-sized planets

24 October 2016 Astronomy Now

Astrophysicists at the University of Bern conducting computer simulations of the formation of planets orbiting in the habitable zone of low-mass stars, such as the red dwarf Proxima Centauri, show that these planets are most likely to be roughly the size of the Earth and to contain large amounts of water.

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Protoplanetary disc’s spiral arms embrace young star

1 October 2016 Astronomy Now

Swirling around the young star Elias 2-27 is a stunning spiral-shape pinwheel of dust. This striking feature, seen with the Atacama Large Millimetre/submillimetre Array (ALMA), is the product of density waves — gravitational perturbations in the star’s protoplanetary disc that produce sweeping arms reminiscent of a spiral galaxy, but on a much smaller scale.

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Detection of methanol shows comets are forming in distant solar system

16 June 2016 Astronomy Now

Astronomers have found the organic molecule methyl alcohol, or methanol, in the protoplanetary disc of TW Hydrae, 175 light-years from Earth — the first such detection of this chemical compound in a young planet-forming disc. Since methanol forms on the icy coatings of dust grains, this discovery provides a window into the region where comets are likely forming.

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Gluttonous young star may hold clues to planet formation

15 June 2016 Astronomy Now

In 1936, infant star FU Orionis began gobbling material from its surrounding disc of gas and dust with a sudden voraciousness, eating the equivalent of 18 Jupiters in the last 80 years. During a three-month binge, as matter turned into energy, the star became 100 times brighter, heating the disc around it to temperatures of up to 6,650 °C.

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Light echoes give clues to young star’s protoplanetary disc

27 April 2016 Astronomy Now

Protoplanetary discs are ‘doughnuts’ of gas and dust surrounding young stars, the sites where planets form over the course of millions of years. Researchers studying the one-million-year-old infant star YLW 16B, some 400 light-years from Earth, were able to determine the distance from the star to the inner rim of its surrounding protoplanetary disc by observing its light echo.

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A planet is forming in an Earth-like orbit around a young star

2 April 2016 Astronomy Now

Discs of dust and gas that surround young stars are the formation sites of planets. New images from the Atacama Large Millimetre/submillimetre Array (ALMA) reveal never-before-seen details in the planet-forming disc around a nearby Sun-like star, including a tantalising gap at the same distance from the star as the Earth is from the Sun.

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Exiled exoplanet kicked out of star’s local neighbourhood?

1 December 2015 Astronomy Now

A planet discovered last year sitting at an unusually large distance from its star — 16 times farther than Pluto is from the Sun — may have been kicked out of its birthplace close to the star in a process similar to what may have happened early in our own solar system’s history. The planet’s 13-million-year-old parent star is known as HD 106906 and lies 300 light-years away.

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Surprising chemistry seen in molecular rings around young star

24 September 2015 Astronomy Now

Astronomers using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimetre Array (ALMA) have discovered two spectacular rings of molecules encircling the young, Sun-like star IM Lup. The rings are made up of one of the most common heavy ions in space — DCO+ (deuterium, carbon, oxygen). This chemistry reveals new insights into the conditions of the planet-forming disc surrounding this star.

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‘Hot Jupiter’ exoplanets may have formed very rapidly

18 September 2015 Astronomy Now

Twenty years after they were first discovered, ‘hot Jupiters’ — gas giant planets that orbit very close to their star — are still enigmatic objects. Using the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope, an international team of astrophysicists has shown that such bodies may only take several million years to migrate close to their newly formed star.

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Young star system found to be host to organic molecules

10 April 2015 Kerry Hebden

Scientists using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array have found a complex carbon-based molecule in a protoplanetary disc around a young star – in quantities enough to fill all of Earth’s oceans – hinting that prebiotic chemistry is indeed universal and not limited to our Solar System.