Friday, 19 February 2016

Planet-forming discs around young stars truncated by close encounters in Orion

The protoplanetary disk of HL Tau, as observed by the
ALMA Observatory. Discs like those would be continually
eroded by close encounters in dense star clusters like
the Orion Nebula Cluste (Credit: APOD)
Astronomers have for a long time suspected that the environment in which stars form could very strongly influence the formation of planetary systems. A recent paper by Simon Portegies Zwart at the Leiden Observatory shows this to be case and reports results of simulations that explore this effect. The simulations show that close encounters between stars in a dense cluster can truncate the protoplanetary discs around stars where planetary systems are thought to form. His simulations are able to reproduce the properties of protoplanetary discs in the nearby Orion Nebula Cluster, suggesting the stars and discs in this cluster have already felt the impact of their crowded environment. These interactions will not only lead to an erosion of the disc (leaving less material available to form planets) but also reduces the orbital radii at which planets can form, impacting the types of planetary system that might form.

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