Big Molecule in Baby Solar System

Mar 11, 2022 | Daily Space, Stars

IMAGE: This composite image features an artistic impression of the planet-forming disc around the IRS 48 star, also known as Oph-IRS 48. Recent observations with the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) spotted several complex organic molecules in this region, including dimethyl ether, the largest molecule found in a planet-forming disc to date. The emission signaling the presence of this molecule (real observations shown in blue) is clearly stronger in the disc’s dust trap. A model of the molecule is also shown in this composite. CREDIT: ESO/L. Calçada, ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)/A. Pohl, van der Marel et al., Brunken et al.

Let’s face it, we’re still learning a whole lot about the details of when and where we find all sorts of different cool events in our galaxy and the universe beyond. While black holes are all kinds of awesome with their weird physics, another area of space science is doing its best to show it can be just as weird in totally different ways.

That area? Solar system formation.

Researchers are working hard to figure out how a blob of gas can, over time, become a star system rich in planets and possibly life. This work is being done in two ways. Folks are working on developing models of what should happen, and folks are looking at solar systems in the process of forming at every possible stage of their development. These observations constrain when different structures form, and by structures, sometimes I mean molecules.

New observations from the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) have shown that the molecule dimethyl ether is already present in planet-forming disks. Study co-author Alice Booth remarks: It is really exciting to finally detect these larger molecules in discs. For a while, we thought it might not be possible to observe them… What makes this even more exciting is that we now know these larger complex molecules are available to feed forming planets in the disc. With these molecules present from the very beginning, life – or at least complex organic molecules – had the seeds to start forming from the very start.

This work is published in Astronomy & Astrophysics with lead author Nashanty G.C. Brunken.

More Information

ESO press release

A major asymmetric ice trap in a planet-forming disk III. First detection of dimethyl ether,” Nashanty G. C. Brunken et al., 2022 March 8, Astronomy & Astrophysics


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