Using the unique capabilities of ESA’s Herschel space observatory, astronomers have accurately ‘weighed’ a star’s disc, finding it still has enough mass to spawn 50 Jupiter-sized planets, several million years after most other stars have already given birth.
Proto-planetary discs contain all the raw ingredients for building planets. They are composed mainly of cold molecular hydrogen gas, which is highly transparent and essentially invisible.
“Just as the ages at which people have children span a range, TW Hydrae seems to lie at the edge of that range for stars, showing that this particular system may have needed longer to form planets, and that it might be a late parent.”
“The detection of heavy molecular hydrogen was made possible thanks to the new observing capabilities offered by Herschel, providing this leap forward in weighing the disc around this star,” adds Göran Pilbratt, ESA’s Herschel project scientist.
ESA Science and Robotic Exploration Communication Officer
Tel: +31 71 565 6799
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University of Michigan, USA
Max-Planck-Institut für Astronomie, Germany
ESA Herschel Project Scientist
Tel: +31 71 565 3621