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NASA Study Shows Disk Patterns Can Self-Generate

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Owlscrying
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Unread post Fri Jan 12, 2018 2:46 pm

When exoplanet scientists first spotted patterns in disks of dust and gas around young stars, they thought newly formed planets might be the cause. But a recent NASA study cautions that there may be another explanation — one that doesn’t involve planets at all.

Exoplanet hunters watch stars for a few telltale signs that there might be planets in orbit, like changes in the color and brightness of the starlight. For young stars, which are often surrounded by disks of dust and gas, scientists look for patterns in the debris — such as rings, arcs and spirals — that might be caused by an orbiting world.

“We’re exploring what we think is the leading alternative contender to the planet hypothesis, which is that the dust and gas in the disk form the patterns when they get hit by ultraviolet light,” said Marc Kuchner, an astrophysicist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

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Owlscrying
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Unread post Fri Jan 12, 2018 2:49 pm

Image
Credits: NASA/Hubble/Konishi et al. 2016

Arcs, rings and spirals appear in the debris disk around the star HD 141569A. The black region in the center is caused by a mask that blocks direct light from the star. This image incorporates observations made in June and August 2015 using the Hubble Space Telescope's STIS instrument.

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Owlscrying
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Unread post Fri Jan 12, 2018 2:50 pm



When exoplanet scientists first spotted patterns in disks of dust and gas around young stars, they thought newly formed planets might be the cause. But a recent NASA study cautions that there may be another explanation: one that doesn't involve planets at all.

When high-energy UV starlight hits dust grains, it strips away electrons. Those electrons collide with and heat nearby gas. As the gas warms, its pressure increases and it traps more dust, which in turn heats more gas. The resulting cycle, called the photoelectric instability (PeI), can work in tandem with other forces to create some of the features astronomers have previously associated with planets in debris disks.

Light exerts a minute physical force on everything it encounters. This radiation pressure propels solar sails and helps direct comet tails so they always point away from the Sun. The same force can push dust into highly eccentric orbits, and even blow some of the smaller grains out of the disk entirely.

 

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