[animation: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/NCSA, image: NAOJ/Subaru]
MAUNA KEA, Hawaii: In science news from the Subaru telescope on the summit of Mauna Kea…
A new image of a disk of gas and dust around a sun-like star is the first to show spiral-arm-like structures. These features may provide clues to the presence of embedded but as-yet-unseen planets.
This animation from the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center gives a great picture of what this may look like.
The newly imaged disk surrounds SAO 206462, an 8.7-magnitude star located about 456 light-years away in the constellation Lupus. Astronomers estimate that the system is only about 9 million years old. The gas-rich disk spans some 14 billion miles, which is more than twice the size of Pluto’s orbit in our own solar system.
The Subaru near-infrared image reveals a pair of spiral features arcing along the outer disk. Theoretical models show that a single embedded planet may produce a spiral arm on each side of a disk. The structures around the star do not form a matched pair, suggesting the presence of two unseen worlds, one for each arm.