Scientists from the ANU and the UNSW Canberra were excited when they chanced upon a collection of young red dwarf stars close to our solar system. What is of particular interest is that this collection of red dwarves could give us a chance to experience slow-motion planet formation.
It was the large discs of dust around two of the stars that led astronomers to believe that they were witnessing the planets in the process of formation.
"We think the Earth and all the other planets formed from discs like these so it is fascinating to see a potential new solar system evolving. However, other stars of this age usually don't have discs any more. The red dwarf discs seem to live longer than those of hotter stars like the sun. We don't understand why," said the lead researcher Dr Simon Murphy, from the ANU Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics.
"It suggests the planet forming process can endure a lot longer than previously thought," said co-author Professor Warrick Lawson from UNSW Canberra adding that the discovery of objects like these two challenges current theories about planet formation.
The team realized that they were witnessing planets being formed due to the fact that the red dwarves had discs around them and there was an unusual glow in the infrared spectrum of the stars.
"I think a lot of telescopes will be turned toward them in the next few years to look for planets. Because they are fainter than other stars and there is not as much glare, young red dwarves are ideal places to directly pick out recently formed planets," Murphy said while also advising that such close red dwarves offered a good chance of catching a rare direct glimpse of a disc, or even a planet, by employing specialized telescopes.
"Less than 20 years ago, the notion that the nearest part of the Galaxy would be littered with young stars was a completely novel one. Most of these objects lie in the southern sky and thus are best accessed by telescopes in the southern hemisphere, including those operated by ANU and Australia more broadly," said Professor Lawson while marveling at the advances made by science that have increased the ability to detect these dim stars over past decades.
This research has been published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.