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Space Science

Winking Star Decoded as Root of Planetary System 40

sam1am points out a New York Times report on a recent paper published in Nature about the formation of planetary systems. A binary star system surrounded by a protoplanetary disc was observed over a period of six years by scientists at Wesleyan University. The orbit of the stars around each other caused changes in illumination from within the disc and allowed the researchers to learn a great deal about its composition. Some of the basic data is posted on the university's site. An animation of the system is also available. From the NYTimes: "'This is the first step in going from smoke particles to macroscopic things like planets and asteroids,' Dr. Herbst said in an interview, noting that these grains were about the same size as those found in many meteorites. Observing starlight reflected from these grains, he said, represented a rare opportunity to study the structure and chemical properties of material in the inner parts of another planetary system."
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Winking Star Decoded as Root of Planetary System

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  • I wonder when the first post with a ST:TNG reference will appear? :-)

    Actually, this is pretty interesting science as well.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      I think it just did.

      Your post was the equivalent of opening Schrodinger's cat-box...
      • by MROD ( 101561 )
        Indeed. I made an observation which collapsed the waveform. Oops.

        Of course, in another time line I didn't post the comment.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      I wonder when the first post with a ST:TNG reference will appear? :-)
      (With apologies to CleverNickName []:

      "But, Caaaaptaaaain....I don't want to post a ST:TNG reference!"

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 14, 2008 @05:35AM (#22749144)
    The diagrams shown must vastly underestimate the difference in distance from the stars to the surrounding ring. Stars moving that fast and with that large of a radius would quickly gravitationally shred the ring if it was as close as shown.

    Now the question is how this disc formed around two stars with such high inclinations relative to it. The typical nebular collapse theory isn't going to work here due to the conservation of angular momentum. Could one of the stars have traveled through a dense nebula or had a multi-body interaction with a recently formed system thus starting this odd system? And if so then wouldn't these results be of a hybrid system and not necessarily representative as the missing gap that the article claims? With two stars with such high inclinations, high velocities, and large major axes, no inner planet is ever going to form and the source of this dust probably isn't from a single nebular collapse. I certainly don't think it has a definitive connection to our solar system formation.
  • by MosesJones ( 55544 ) on Friday March 14, 2008 @05:36AM (#22749150) Homepage
    Now this is the sort of thing that makes me take my hat off to science. These chaps, who probably still lose their car keys down the couch, have managed to identify objects of a 1mm size at a distance of 22,705,268,200,000,000,000 meters (14108399600000000 miles). Now obviously they are using analysis and not just "seeing" the dust but that truly is a gobsmaking achievement.

    Of course now the bible literalists can jump up and say "see we are made from dust" but hell that can only lead to interesting conversations....
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      have managed to identify objects of a 1mm size at a distance of 22,705,268,200,000,000,000 meters (14108399600000000 miles).

      Why now?? I can identify a winking chik at a distance of 10 miles.

    • by Random Walk ( 252043 ) on Friday March 14, 2008 @06:20AM (#22749304)
      First, it's actually easier to detect smaller particles. Surface scales as radius squared, mass as radius to the third power, thus with smaller particles you get much more (absorbing or reflecting) surface per mass.

      Second, the author's results depend on whether their particular model geometry for the binary system + disk is correct.

      And third, in their Nature paper they argue that they most likely are biased towards the smallest grains that make up the circumbinary disk, and that the bulk of the disk may be in even larger grains ('pebbles'). For the same amount of occultation, that would require much more mass (see first point). I wonder whether that wouldn't result in an insane mass for the disk ... they don't discuss this ;-)

    • by delt0r ( 999393 )

      Of course now the bible literalists can jump up and say "see we are made from dust" but hell that can only lead to interesting conversations....
      Its not the bible literalists that keep tagging these type of comments on the end of there posts. Seriously what does this have to do with anything at all?
  • by mickywicky ( 1256254 ) on Friday March 14, 2008 @05:55AM (#22749212)
    Well... sure the building blocks for Earth-like bodies are there... but wouldn't the gravitational dance of the two stars rip such bodies apart unless they rotate around the epicentre of the binary system? Which in turn would mean the nearest it could be would be as far a Jupiter's orbit or so?
    I mean... if I were sitting on Ganymede (or even on Titan) I'd hate for our sun to dance around like those two do. Talk about extreme seasons!
    • Re:Earth-like?? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by SquirrelsUnite ( 1179759 ) on Friday March 14, 2008 @06:43AM (#22749360)
      It depends on their distance. The problem isn't so much that a planet would get ripped apart (it would have to be pretty close for that) but that if the two stars are too close than any orbit in the habitable zone would be unstable. There are basically two ways to have stable orbits in a binary system in the habitable zone. In the first case the stars are very close to each other and the planet orbits both of them. In the second they are fairly distant and the planet is in orbit around one of them. It doesn't have to be a huge distance either, Alpha Centauri A and B are 11 AU from each other at their closest approach, yet an Earth sized planet could have formed and be stable in the habitble zone around either of them.
      • I was personally hoping for a nice figure-eight orbit. Or maybe a planet that sits directly in the gravitational center of the two, falling towards neither. Not feasible, I know, but what-ifs are fun.
  • by kyriosdelis ( 1100427 ) on Friday March 14, 2008 @05:57AM (#22749218)
    (oblig. Monty Python..)

    Say no more!

  • Wouldn't want to do something careless like rm -rf /*
  • ...we clearly need the Mega Maid []!
  • Wait, does this mean that the ASCII goatse images are rootkits?

    I guess the age-old question has been answered... yes, John, goatse does run linux.
  • I was impressed by the animation which included moving through a simulation of attracted particles. Did they use astronomy specific tools to make this which inter-operate with Flash/Shockwave or was it coded by hand? And does the animation actually simulate gravitational attraction or is it just replaying a set of movements precomputed by another software package?
  • by San-LC ( 1104027 ) on Friday March 14, 2008 @08:10AM (#22749614)
    So, since the star was decoded as root, does this mean you would have to "sudo" in order to get any readings from it?
    • or...

      We've found the root, now we just need the password...


      You Must Be Root To Do That!
    • See, God didn't want us earthians to have root access to the universe. Thus he gave the password to a binary system, which promptly encoded it to some stupid chemicals to form a binary star system. Now that we've decoded these chemicals, we'll soon gain root access. But then, once we've gained root access the universe will be replaced with something more complex anyway, as the late Douglas Adams already pointed out.
  • PW3NED! (Score:3, Funny)

    by Tiger4 ( 840741 ) on Friday March 14, 2008 @11:35AM (#22751528)
    Root of a whole STAR system! SWEET!
  • by peter303 ( 12292 ) on Friday March 14, 2008 @03:50PM (#22754172)
    (1) Red-blue winks are doppler shifts of light caused by a planet's gravity pulling or pushing on its star. This is the most popular method of discovering planets with over 200 so far, but cant find small ones. It sees planets large enough or fast enough to cause a detectable, infinitesmal doppler shift.
    (2) Eclipsing transits occurs when the planet passes edge on across the face of the star. The star will dim for a few hours. Even in our solar system transists of Mercury and Venus only happen a few hours each century, so they are hard to catch. I think think they've found about ten planets this way.
    (3) Gravitational lensing occurs when a solar system eclipses another star about twice as far away. There are temporary brightenings of the occluded star when its planet crosses the occluded star. This can see planets as small as earth. I think they've found about five planets this way.

    In 2009 the Kepler space probe will stare unblinking at the same patch of sky for months at a time. It is mainly seeking eclipsing transists but could catch lensing too. It will watch several hundred thousand stars simultaneously and hopefully capture few hundred planets.
  • Would a goatse reference be on topic here?

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