Astronomers have for the first time seen newly formed planets floating in water around a young star
The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has allowed astronomers to see a young star system 370 light-years from Earth where new planets are surrounded by water vapor in their orbits. Scientists have detected water vapor in protoplanetary disks before, but have never seen it where planets form.
"We have seen water in other (protoplanetary) disks, but not so close and not in a system where planets are now forming," said Julia Perotti, lead researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy (MPIA) (Germany).
Scientists have named the distant planetary system PDS 70. It contains both inner and outer disks of gas and dust in which planets form. These disks are separated by a gap 8 billion kilometers wide.
The MIRI (mid-infrared instrument) instrument on JWST found that the inner disk of the system is filled with water vapor. It is hypothesized that rocky, Earth-like planets could form under these conditions, as well as sub-Neptunian planets, which have a radius smaller than Neptune in our solar system but could have much larger masses.
Water vapor was detected at a distance of less than 160 million kilometers from the star. Our Earth orbits at a distance of 150 million kilometers from the Sun.
Astronomers note that in the inner region of PDS 70 have not yet detected real planets, but there is clear evidence for the existence of protoplanets with the raw materials to build rocky worlds in the form of silicates.
In their paper, the scientists note that the discovery of water vapor means that rocky planets formed there would have immediate access to water.
"This discovery is extremely exciting because it explores a region where rocky Earth-like planets typically form," explained MPIA director and co-author Thomas Henning.
Two planets already exist in the system (PDS 70b and PDS 70c) that are similar in size to our Jupiter. These gas giants are located between two dust disks, and planet 70c may also have a satellite orbiting around it.
Astronomers note that the fact that other planets have already formed in this system is a good sign for the future formation of other worlds.
As for the water vapor, the researchers suggest that it was formed as a result of hydrogen and oxygen atoms meeting in that region to form water. According to another version - water can migrate from the cold outer disk to the inner system.
Scientists also told about another interesting point of the discovery. PDS 70 is a K-type star that is cooler than our Sun. Its age is estimated to be 5.4 million years old - a relatively old age for a star that is still forming planets, as the gas and dust content of planet-forming disks decreases over time. Scientists are surprised that vapor exists there and rocky planets are forming.
In the future, they plan to conduct new studies with other JWST instruments to gain even more insight into what is happening in the inner disk of the PDS 70 system.
Earlier OBOZREVATEL also told about the fact that NASA showed a stunning photo of the cosmic cradle, where stars are born.