UvA researcher Tomas Stolker aims telescope on protoplanetary disk

11 November 2016

A team of astronomers led by Tomas Stolker at the University of Amsterdam's (UvA) Anton Pannekoek Institute for Astronomy have published fascinating new observations of a protoplanetary disk.

A series of sharp new images made with the SPHERE instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope have enabled the team to observe the complex dynamics of young solar systems, in one case across a long period of several months, and to reveal the remarkable structures in the planet-producing disks around newly formed stars.

450 light years

The protoplanetary disk on which Stolker and his team set their sights is a star known as HD135344B, situated some 450 light years from Earth. Though already widely studied, Stolker, with the help of SPHERE, has documented new structures in this disk, including a large void in the centre and two large spiralling arms, thought to be the trails of one or more massive protoplanets that will eventually evolve into Jupiter-like worlds.

Also observed were four dark streaks, probably shadows of moving material within HD135344B's disk. One of the streaks manifested distinct changes over the months between observations, offering a rare chance to make comparative observations of planetary evolution. These observations suggest that transformations are taking place in the central section of the disk which SPHERE is unable to capture directly. All in all, the images present astronomers with an unparalleled opportunity to investigate the dynamics of the innermost regions of this protoplanetary system.


The SPHERE instrument used by Stolker and his colleagues to study the evolution of young planetary systems is an advanced instrument specifically designed to hunt for exoplanets at the ESO observatory on Paranal. With the explosive growth in the number of known exoplanets in recent years, this research field is now one of the most exciting branches of modern astronomy.

The observations recorded by Stolker and his team offer proof that the complex and ever-changing environment of the disks surrounding young stars still have plenty of fascinating new discoveries to yield. By collecting a huge volume of data on these protoplanetary disks, science is taking another step closer to solving the mystery of how planets influence the shape of their disks.


Go to the research article by Tomas Stolker et al.


Image of a protoplanetary disk observed 450 lightyears distance star HD135344B.

Source: NOVA

Published by  Faculty of Science