Very Early Planetary Formation Observed in Orion?

By Keith Cowing
April 28, 2000
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Planet Formation in Orion?Europe’s Infrared Space Telescope (ISO) may have spied a planetary system in an unprecedented early stage of formation. The results of this work are presented in the 28 April 2000 issue of Science magazine. According to ESA “The system observed by ISO’s infrared camera, ISOCAM, is 1200 light years away in a star-forming region in the Orion nebula. It’s called VLA1/2.” The Orion Nebula is not only a feast for the eyes, but is often referred to as a “stellar nursery” – one wherein stars can be seen emerging from the clouds of dust from which they formed.

According to ESA, “Astronomers know, in broad terms, that the future star begins to form within the dust cloud by accreting material which forms a disk, the same disk out of which planets, comets and all the components of a planetary system will probably form in the future –the disk is actually called a ‘protoplanetary disk’.

Initial observations of the VLA1/2 region of Orion were thought to show a dust cloud in the earliest stages of planetary formation. ISO has provided evidence that the process of planetary formation is more advanced than previously thought.

According to ESA “ISO was also able to analyse the chemical composition of the large cocoon of material enshrouding both the star and its protoplanetary disk, a structure called by the researchers the ‘placental’ envelope. It is much colder, and made up of grains of dust covered by ices of water, carbon dioxide, methane and probably methanol. This chemical information, another ‘first’ of the work, will contribute substantially to understanding the star-birth processes, say the researchers.”

Related Links

° 28 April 2000: ISO measures possible planetary system in formation, ESA press release

° 28 April 2000: Windows Through the Dusty Disks Surrounding the Youngest Low-Mass Protostellar Objects, Science, [summary – can be viewed for free once registered. A subscription fee is required for full access.]

“The formation and evolution of young low-mass stars are characterized by important processes of mass loss and accretion occurring in the innermost regions of their placentary circumstellar disks. Because of the large obscuration of these disks at optical and infrared wavelengths in the early protostellar stages (class 0 sources), they were previously detected only at radio wavelengths using interferometric techniques. We have detected with the Infrared Space Observatory the mid-infrared (mid-IR) emission associated with the class 0 protostar VLA1 in the HH1-HH2 region located in the Orion

Background Information

° Extrasolar Planets, SpaceRef Directory

° Hubble Confirms Abundance of Protoplanetary Disks Around Newborn Stars, Space Telescope Science Institute, 1994

° Hot Jupiters and Rare Earths: Planets are common. Are we?, SpaceRef

° NASA Announces a Significant Advance in Planet Hunting, SpaceRef

° NASA’s Ames Research Center Uses Transit Photometry to Confirm Existence of Extrasolar Planet Circling HD 209548, SpaceRef

° Six New Extrasolar Planets Discovered, SpaceRef

° Of Planetary Transits Near and Far, SpaceRef

SpaceRef co-founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.