New planet formation hypothesis places giant hidden worlds everywhere

Simulations of circumstellar disks, the vast dust-planes left over from stellar formation, suggest that planets ten times larger than Jupiter may lurk in the universe.

Being far from the stars they orbit, these hypothetical worlds are so dark as to be all but invisible despite their enormity. But just as the presence of smaller worlds has been inferred, a team of astronomers believes the traces of the mega-Jupiters is seen in these proto-planetary swirls.

…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… 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.


The Atlantic's Adrienne Lafrance writes that the method could be used to find smaller, more interesting worlds:

The idea that massive planets could be detected this way is a big deal, and not just because of the potential existence of the planets. "In the future," Dong says, "this could be another way to detect planets which otherwise we cannot see."

In turn, finding newly formed planets in the disks around brand-new stars offers an unprecedented look at how and when planets are made. "You can't learn a lot about how planets form by observing our our solar system," said Tony Darnell, a spokesman for the Space Telescope Science Institute, in the webcast Thursday. "But you can by looking at these kinds of systems."

If you came to this post looking for Planet X, you now leave it sadly disappointed.