JWST captures the end of planet formation | Science & Technology

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is helping scientists uncover how planets form by advancing understanding of their birthplaces and the circumstellar disks surrounding young stars. In a paper published in the Astronomical Journal, a team of scientists led by Naman Bajaj of the University of Arizona and including Dr. Uma Gorti at the SETI Institute, image for the first time winds from an old planet-forming disk (still very young relative to the Sun) which is actively dispersing its gas content. The disk has been imaged before, winds from old disks haven’t. Knowing when the gas disperses is important as it constrains the time left for nascent planets to consume the gas from their surroundings.

At the heart of this discovery is the observation of TCha, a young star (relative to the Sun) enveloped by an eroding disk notable for its vast dust gap, approximately 30 astronomical units in radius. For the first time, astronomers have imaged the dispersing gas (aka winds) using the four lines of the noble gases neon (Ne) and argon (Ar), one of which is the first detection in a planet-forming disk. The images of [Ne II] show that the wind is coming from an extended region of the disk. The team, who are all members of a JWST program led by Ilaria Pascucci (U Arizona), is also interested in knowing how this process takes place so they can better understand the history and impact on our solar system.

“These winds could be driven either by high-energy stellar photons (the star’s light) or by the magnetic field that weaves the planet-forming disk,” said Naman.

Uma Gorti from the SETI Institute has been conducting research on disk dispersal for decades, and with her colleague predicted the strong Argon emission that JWST has now detected. She is “excited to finally be able to disentangle the physical conditions in the wind to understand how they launch.”

Planetary systems like our Solar System seem to contain more rocky objects than gas-rich ones. Around our Sun, these…

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