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UGA Astronomer Inseok Song, et al, Report Planet-Forming Disk Vanishing Into Thin Air

July 6, 2012

A group of astronomers, including UGA Professor Inseok Song, reported in Nature on July 4, that the dusty planet-forming disk that surrounds the star TYC 8241 2652 1 has rapidly disappeared in less than 2 years, an amazingly quick planet forming process. They also report that this quick creation of planets may have happened in our solar system.

Researchers had spotted the cloud of dust circling the young star in the Scorpius-Centaurus stellar nursery, 450 light years away, in data gathered by the Infrared Astronomical Satellite while it was was surveying the sky back in 1983. The dust cloud's size was found to be unchanged in 2008, but by 2010, it had all but disappeared. Scientists have long hypothesised that planetary formation takes place after hundreds of thousands of years of minute particles clumping together through weak electrostatic interactions and eventually gravitational forces.

But this observation could mean that planets can form very fast if the conditions are right.

"If what we observed is related to runaway growth, then our finding suggests that planet formation is very fast and very efficient," said Inseok Song, the study's co-author and assistant professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Georgia.

"The implication is that if the conditions are right around a star, planet formation can be nearly instantaneous from an astronomical perspective."

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