A telescope that is able to capture rings of dust from far-flung star systems may come in very handy, as scientists have developed a new strategy to help them find migrating worlds that are hidden. As the birthplace of exoplanets takes place in these rings, scientists believe that they will now be able to learn even more about exoplanets.
As Live Science reports, British scientists have discovered exactly how infant planets should be moving inside these rings and how they can monitor the movement of these exoplanets, despite the fact that the exoplanets themselves are not visible. As lead author Farzana Meru of the University of Warwick explained, “Planets are really, really hard to directly detect But planets open up a gap in the disk.”
In what has been compared to a mole leaving a subtle, but visible path where it travels, exoplanets too create paths that can be spotted going through protoplanetary disks that can be traced by astronomers, regardless of whether they can actually observe the exoplanets themselves. This capability is completely new and is only possible because of the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) telescope in Chile, and will help astronomers detect these distant planets.
The tracks left by the exoplanets don’t linger for very long, so scientists normally wouldn’t be able to fully grasp the entire migration of the exoplanet. And while scientists are well aware that planets are able to have orbits that change in major ways, up until now, this has never been directly observed.
However, the new strategy that Meru and her team have devised may be changing this in a major way, as scientists will be able to analyze the size of dust that is in the rings around exoplanets. Meru notes that by observing wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation, scientists will be able to determine dust sizes.
“Small wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation correspond to small dust sizes, and larger wavelengths correspond to larger dust sizes.”
Now scientists studying data from ALMA will be able to directly observe dust in these rings to learn whether it is thick or fine in comparison with other rings. Meru’s team have already created a simulation that analyzes how dust particles change as exoplanets migrate, and it was found that when they head toward their star, dust particles that are close to it should speed up tremendously, which pushes them straight into a wide orbit.
However, dust particles that are large get tossed around with much greater ease when compared with small dust particles that become slow due to ambient gas that cause them to drag somewhat. By studying the dust particles over extended periods of time, Meru believes that scientists will be able to observe two completely separate rings of dust around exoplanets that are migrating on an inward path.
The conclusions of Meru and her team’s research on the hunt for the migration routes of exoplanets can be read on the preprint server arXiv.