Since 2014, the Disk Detective project has offered ordinary people the chance to express their views on the nature of objects identified in NASA images (the United States). A somewhat special protoplantary disc was discovered this way. It is a bit “private” because it is young and relatively close to us. And what’s more, it’s in a brown dwarf orbit. What gives astronomers hope to study every detail soon.

Brown dwarfs are a little bit of the ugly ducklings of the Universe. It’s too big to be accepted in the planet category. Too small to fit in the stars. Ugly little ducks … or missing link between giant gas planets and the smallest stars. But the brown dwarfs can remain around them, like the rest of their formation, a rotating gas and dust disc. A disc that can be brought to create planets.

Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT – United States) and specifically from the University of Oklahoma (USA) have identified such a disc around a brown dwarf called W1200-7845. It is only 3.7 million years old and about 332 light years from Earth, near our Sun. A relative affinity that could allow new generation telescopes to observe details. Perhaps to better understand what kind of planet can form around a brown dwarf.

In fact, thanks to the Disk Detective project and citizen scientists, this protoplantary disc was discovered. The site was launched in 2014 and provides public access to images taken by NASA’s Wide Area Infrared Survey Explorer (Wise) (United States). A new version is released this week. This time it will contain more sensitive images than the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Quick Response System (PanSTARRS) to detect what researchers call “Peter Pan” discs that never grow. Indeed, disks that should be old enough to form planets, but not yet made.

Disk Detective for more information

Disk Detective principle: different users classify the same objects according to their shape. Quite oval: they are classified in the category of possible galaxies. Quite circular: We imagine them as the stars that probably host a protoplantary disc. Astrophysicist Steven Silverberg, in the press release from MIT, “We are leading the wisdom of numbers towards the most interesting objects.” Said.

However, researchers had to observe with another infrared instrument from the Las Campanas observatory (Chile) to verify its nature. They now plan to turn the Large millimeter / submillimeter antenna network (Alma – Chile) towards it and take advantage of the proximity of its disk to measure its mass and radius.

“The mass of a disc gives information about the possible planets created or created there, it also gives information about the composition of the disc”, also refers to Steven Silverberg, the person responsible for the new version of the Disc. Detective. And the researcher hopes that astronomers will provide useful data about the conditions under which the planets form around the stars. As the “Peter Pan” discs suggest – if they occur later in the star’s history, these conditions may be more suitable for the development of life.


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