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James Webb Space Telescope expands search for newborn exoplanets


NEW DELHI: Astronomers have turned their gaze towards protoplanetary disks using the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). These disks, composed of dust and gas, swirl around developing stars, offering crucial insights into the early stages of planetary birth.
While numerous such disks have been studied, only two planets have been directly observed during their formation.Now, researchers from the University of Michigan, University of Arizona, and University of Victoria have undertaken a series of studies, combining observations from JWST with data from the Hubble Space Telescope and the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile, a press release by Eureka alert said.
Their investigations, detailed in papers published in The Astronomical Journal, aimed to detect nascent planets within protoplanetary disks. As they develop, these young planets pick up mass in whirling masses of gas and dust known as protoplanetary disks. Though astronomers have observed several of these protoplanetary disks, they have only seen the planets in the process of formation on a few occasions as far.
“Several simulations suggest that the planet should be within the disk, massive, large, hot, and bright. But we didn’t find it. This means that either the planet is much colder than we think, or it may be obscured by some material that prevents us from seeing it,” said Gabriele Cugno of University of Michigan.
One study led by the University of Michigan focused on SAO 206462, revealing a potential planet candidate. However, its exact nature remains uncertain, suggesting it could be obscured by material or mistaken for a faint background object.
Similarly, studies led by the University of Victoria and the University of Arizona explored disks around stars HL Tau and MWC 758, respectively. While no new planets were detected, the observations provided unprecedented detail of the surrounding material, shedding light on the complex interplay between disks and their stellar hosts.
The sensitivity of JWST’s instruments allowed researchers to place stringent constraints on suspected planets, providing valuable insights into their properties and distribution within the disks. These findings are crucial for understanding the formation and evolution of planetary systems, offering clues about the distribution of chemical elements and the development of Earth-like worlds.
Dr. Gabriele Cugno, emphasized the significance of detecting forming planets, stating, “If we manage to finally see these planets, we can connect some of the structures with forming companions and relate formation processes to the properties of other systems at much later stages.”

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