Planet-forming disks around very low-mass stars are different | Science & Technology

Planets form in disks of gas and dust, orbiting young stars. The MIRI Mid-INfrared Disk Survey (MINDS), led by Thomas Henning from the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy (MPIA) in Heidelberg, Germany, aims to establish a representative disk sample. By exploring their chemistry and physical properties with MIRI (Mid-Infrared Instrument) on board the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), the collaboration links those disks to the properties of planets potentially forming there. In a new study, a team of researchers explored the vicinity of a very low-mass star of 0.11 solar masses (known as ISO-ChaI 147), whose results appear in the journal Science.

JWST opens a new window to the chemistry of planet-forming disks

“These observations are not possible from Earth because the relevant gas emissions are absorbed by its atmosphere,” explained lead author Aditya Arabhavi of the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. “Previously, we could only identify acetylene (C2H2) emission from this object. However, JWST’s higher sensitivity and the spectral resolution of its instruments allowed us to detect weak emission from less abundant molecules.”

The MINDS collaboration found gas at temperatures around 300 Kelvin (ca. 30 degrees Celsius), strongly enriched with carbon-bearing molecules but lacking oxygen-rich species. “This is profoundly different from the composition we see in disks around solar-type stars, where oxygen-bearing molecules such as water and carbon dioxide dominate,” added team member Inga Kamp, University of Groningen.

One striking example of an oxygen-rich disk is the one of PDS 70, where the MINDS program recently found large amounts of water vapour. Considering earlier observations, astronomers deduce that disks around very low-mass stars evolve differently than those around more massive stars such as the Sun, with potential implications for finding rocky planets with Earth-like characteristics there. Since the environments in such disks set the conditions…


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