Leicester Mercury

Astronomer­s watch as solar system is created

BREAKTHROU­GH IN KNOWLEDGE OF PLANET FORMATION

- By STAFF REPORTER

THE astonishin­g astronomic­al beauty of the Flame and Horsehead nebulae has been captured on camera by an amateur photograph­er.

James Brown pointed his camera at the constellat­ion of Orion.

He took the picture from near Tilton on the Hill using a William Optics telescope and dedicated ZWO ASI183MC Pro Cooled camera with a

ASTRONOMER­S have made a breakthrou­gh discovery which will transform our understand­ing of planetary formation – and the origins of life.

A young star known as PDS 70, which is 370 light years from Earth and about five million years old, is one of the few stars where planetary formation can be seen as it happens.

Telescopes can see the disc of gas around the star.

This is the material that planets are made from, and recently it was discovered that there are at least two planets orbiting in a gap in the star’s disc. light pollution filter fitted. Cooling the camera to -15C helped minimise noise.

Taking the photo also cooled James. He said: “It was a freezing night and a lot of our kit had ice forming on it by the end of the evening. The telescope was mounted on a tracking mount that moves to counteract the rotation of the Earth,

A Leicester team used the orbiting Neil Gehrels Swift Observator­y to watch PDS 70.

Launched in 2004, Swift has three telescopes, including an X-ray telescope, whose camera was built at the University of Leicester, and an ultraviole­t/optical telescope.

The team pointed these two telescopes at PDS 70 on five occasions in July and August.

They concluded the disc was most likely dissipatin­g into space due to high-energy radiation from the star – a process known as photoevapo­ration – and that the entire disc would allowing for long exposures to be taken.

“This was created by stacking 21 separate four-minute exposures, which again lowers the noise in the image and increases the detail.

The Flame nebula is about 1,350 light years from Earth and the Horsehead is 1,500 light years.

“The Horsehead nebula is a dark evaporate in about one million years.

Dr Simon Joyce, from Leicester, said: “If photoevapo­ration is as rapid as we predict, then PDS 70 could be a fully functionin­g solar system in less than one million years.

“When you consider that our solar system is 4.6 billion years old, we are seeing PDS 70 during the first years of its life in human terms, yet these observatio­ns show planet formation is already nearly finished.

“These observatio­ns help to tell us how long planets take to form and are a fascinatin­g demonstrat­ion of dust nebula which only stands out in the photo because of the red dust nebula IC 434 behind it.

“The red is caused by ionized hydrogen gas and is not visible to the human eye as it is close to infrared.

“As a result you can’t view these nebula by just looking through a telescope and most cameras will struggle to pick them up.” how our own solar system came to be the way it is.

“The University of Leicester’s continuing dedication to building and operating space instrument­s is making discoverie­s about the origin of life possible, even though they were originally designed for a very different purpose.”

The project was led by Dr Joyce and also involved the university’s Dr John Pye, Dr Jonathan Nichols, Dr Kim Page and Prof Richard Alexander. Also involved in the project were colleagues from the University of Vienna.

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