In planetary science, the Gemini Planet Imager has spent the last four years providing the sharpest images to date of the disks around young stars, including a newly released catalog of 26 debris disks, most of which show evidence of planets, and some of which even contain evidence of comet belts. This survey will produce new scientific understanding for years to come but has already started to make sense of some aspects of planet formation. For instance, the youngest star in this collection is also the only one not to have a hole in the center of its disk. This matches theories that say it takes time for planets to clear out the insides of solar systems, and this will start to put constraints on when things happen in solar system formation and help us understand the story of our own system’s formation.
Unfortunately, we may never understand the details of origins. This is expressed by study second author Paul Kalas, who said: If you dial back the clock for our own solar system by 4.5 billion years, which one of these disks were we? Were we a narrow ring, or were we a fuzzy blob? It would be great to know what we looked like back then to understand our own origins. That is the great unanswered question.
This work was lead by Tom Esposito and appears in the Astronomical Journal.
Berkeley News article (UC Berkeley)
“Debris Disk Results from the Gemini Planet Imager Exoplanet Survey’s Polarimetric Imaging Campaign,” T. M. Esposito et al., 2020 June 15, Astronomical Journal (Preprint on arxiv.org)