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An old disk still capable of forming a planetary system

An old disk still capable of forming a planetary system

Publication date: 31 January 2013

Authors: E.A. Bergin, et al.

Journal: Nature
Volume: 493
Issue: 7434
Page: 644-646
Year: 2013

Copyright: Nature Publishing Group

From the masses of the planets orbiting the Sun, and the abundance of elements relative to hydrogen, it is estimated that when the Solar System formed, the circumstellar disk must have had a minimum mass of around 0.01 solar masses within about 100 astronomical units of the star. (One astronomical unit is the Earth-Sun distance.) The main constituent of the disk, gaseous molecular hydrogen, does not efficiently emit radiation from the disk mass reservoir, and so the most common measure of the disk mass is dust thermal emission and lines of gaseous carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide emission generally indicates properties of the disk surface, and the conversion from dust emission to gas mass requires knowledge of the grain properties and the gas-to-dust mass ratio, which probably differ from their interstellar values. As a result, mass estimates vary by orders of magnitude, as exemplified by the relatively old (3-10 million years) star TW Hydrae, for which the range is 0.0005-0.06 solar masses. Here we report the detection of the fundamental rotational transition of hydrogen deuteride from the direction of TW Hydrae. Hydrogen deuteride is a good tracer of disk gas because it follows the distribution of molecular hydrogen and its emission is sensitive to the total mass. The detection of hydrogen deuteride, combined with existing observations and detailed models, implies a disk mass of more than 0.05 solar masses, which is enough to form a planetary system like our own.

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