Spiral Arms Point to Possible Planets in a Star's Dusty Disk

A new image of the disk of gas and dust around a sun-like star is the first to show spiral-arm-like structures. These features may provide clues to the presence of embedded but as-yet-unseen planets.

The newly imaged disk surrounds SAO 206462, an 8.7-magnitude star located about 456 light-years away in the constellation Lupus. Astronomers estimate that the system is only about 9 million years old. The gas-rich disk spans some 14 billion miles, which is more than twice the size of Pluto's orbit in our own solar system.

The Subaru near-infrared image reveals a pair of spiral features arcing along the outer disk. Theoretical models show that a single embedded planet may produce a spiral arm on each side of a disk. The structures around SAO 206462 do not form a matched pair, suggesting the presence of two unseen worlds, one for each arm.

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Donna Cox (AVL NCSA/University of Illinois): Lead Animator
A. J. Christensen (AVL NCSA/University of Illinois): Animator
Matthew Hall (AVL NCSA/University of Illinois): Animator
Alex Betts (AVL NCSA/University of Illinois): Animator
Stuart Levy (AVL NCSA/University of Illinois): Animator
Robert Patterson (AVL NCSA/University of Illinois): Animator
Scott Wiessinger (USRA): Video Editor
Scott Wiessinger (USRA): Producer
Francis Reddy (SPSYS): Writer
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G2011-112 -- Spiral Arms Point to Possible Planets in a Star's Dusty Disk

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