So-called death stars in the Orion Nebula wreak havoc on developing planets.
These highly luminous O-type stars, “which are really monsters compared to our Sun, emit tremendous amounts of ultraviolet radiation and this can play havoc during the development of young planetary systems,” said Rita Mann in a statement.
Mann, an astronomer with Canada’s National Research Council, was the lead author of a paper published in Astrophysical Journal.
A team of astronomers from Canada and the United States studied the death stars.
“We looked at dozens of embryonic stars with planet-forming potential and, for the first time, found clear indications where protoplanetary disks simply vanished under the intense glow of a neighboring massive star,” she explained.
Many Sun-like stars are born in places similar to the Orion Nebula in crowded environments. Over a few million years, grains of dust and reservoirs of gas combine into larger, denser bodies–eventually forming planets and stars.
Some of the stars explode as supernovas, seeding the phase again with dust and heavy elements. The explosions look good but can be deadly to planets if the explosions happen too close by.
“Massive stars are hot and hundreds of times more luminous than our Sun,” said James Di Francesco, also with the National Research Council of Canada, in the statement. “Their energetic photons can quickly deplete a nearby protoplanetary disk by heating up its gas, breaking it up, and sweeping it away.”
These new observations included new proplyds, or disks of dense gas surrounding a young star, as well as the results of peering inside the surface to see how much mass was in the proplyds.
Combined with previous studies, the researchers “found that any protostar within the extreme-UV envelope of a massive star would have much of its disk of material destroyed in very short order,” according to the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. “Proplyds in these close-in regions retained only a fraction (one half or less) of the mass necessary to create one Jupiter-size planet. Beyond the 0.1 light-year radius, in the far-UV dominated region, the researchers observed a wide range of disk masses containing anywhere for one to 80 times the mass of Jupiter. This is similar to the amount of dust found in low-mass star forming regions.”
“Taken together, our investigations with ALMA suggest that extreme UV regions are not just inhospitable, but they’re downright hazardous for planet formation. With enough distance, however, it’s possible to find a much more congenial environment,” said Mann. “This work is really the tip of the iceberg of what will come out of ALMA; we hope to eventually learn how common solar systems like our own are.”