A team of astronomers is proposing that huge spiral patterns seen around some newborn stars, merely a few million years old (about one percent our sun's age), may be evidence for the presence of giant unseen planets. This idea not only opens the door to a new method of planet detection, but also could offer a look into the early formative years of planet birth.
Though astronomers have cataloged thousands of planets orbiting other stars, the very earliest stages of planet formation are elusive because nascent planets are born and embedded inside vast, pancake-shaped disks of dust and gas encircling newborn stars, known as circumstellar disks.
The conclusion that planets may betray their presence by modifying circumstellar disks on large scales is based on detailed computer modeling of how gas-and-dust disks evolve around newborn stars, which was conducted by two NASA Hubble Fellows, Ruobing Dong of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and Zhaohuan Zhu of Princeton University. Their research was published in the Aug. 5 edition of The Astrophysical Journal Letters.