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Spiral Arms

Spiral Arms of a Star- An Exoplanet is a Cosmic Sculptor

Scientists have made an extraordinary observation by uncovering a giant exoplanet’s captivating spiral arms within its host star’s gaseous and dusty confines.

Does it sound intriguing? Yes, it is! Our galaxy unfolds many crisp theories every day that paved the way for scientific theories and inventions.

An Enigmatic Giant Planet MWC 758c Sculpting the Reddest Exoplanet Forming Spiral Arms

The planet is also the reddest planet discovered beyond the solar system, or ‘exoplanet,’ according to experts.

Spiral arms are formations commonly associated with galaxies, with photographs of our spiral galaxy, the Milky Way, serving as a spectacular example. Spiral arms aren’t just seen in galaxies; gas and dust near newborn stars may also produce them.

Spiral Arms img 2
This still from a simulation shows how the giant exoplanet MWC 758c is carving spiral arms of its parent star. (Image credit: L. Krapp and K. Kratter, University of Arizona)

MWC 758, situated roughly 500 light-years from Earth, is considered just a few million years old, making it a baby compared to our middle-aged’ sun, which is approximately 4.6 billion years old.

And, like the sun, MWC 758 is encircled by a disk of planet-forming material known as a protoplanetary disk. However, astronomers have been aware of a spiral pattern generating two arms in this protoplanetary disk since at least 2013. According to University of Arizona experts, the twin spiral arms are the product of a gigantic planet called MWC 758c, which circles the star at a distance equal to 100 times the distance between Earth and the sun.

Suppose you are wondering now how a giant planet could be a cosmic cluster forming spiral arms of its host star. Then the following part will uncover some significant information.

How Giant Planets Shapes Spiral Arms? A Deep & Scientific Analysis Revealed so much!

A Research lead author and the University of Arizona Steward Observatory postdoc Kevin Wagner, said:

“Our study puts forward a solid piece of evidence that giant planets cause these spiral arms,”

“And with the new James Webb Space Telescope, we will be able to further test and support this idea by searching for more planets like MWC 758c.”

MWC 758 planetary system
The MWC 758 planetary system as observed by the Large Binocular Telescope Interferometer at infrared wavelengths. Its spiral arms are clearly apparent, as its the giant exoplanet sculpting them. (Image credit: L. Krapp and K. Kratter, University of Arizona)

Protoplanetary disks like this one and the one that previously produced the solar system typically disintegrate after 10 million years. The constituent matter within the system has three potential fates: expulsion from the system, absorption by the budding star, or incorporation into the formation of celestial bodies such as planets, moons, asteroids, and comets.

Wagner said:

“I think of this system as an analogy for how our solar system would have appeared less than 1% into its lifetime,”

“Jupiter, being a giant planet, also likely interacted with and gravitationally sculpted our disk billions of years ago, which eventually led to the formation of Earth.”

Here we are discovering what potential reason could be back that forms cosmic sculptures.

Why Cosmic Sculptors Form Giant Planets and Spiral Arms?

Spiral arms are pretty prevalent in protoplanetary disks. According to scientists, around ten of the 30 disks seen in relatively close young star systems have their spiral arms.

Wagner said:

“Spiral arms can provide feedback on the planet formation process itself. Our observation of this new planet further supports the idea that giant planets form early on, accreting mass from their birth environment, and then gravitationally alter the subsequent environment for other, smaller planets to form.”

According to one popular explanation, these spiral arms are formed when a large gas giant tugs on material whirling around its parent star. Until recently, astronomers have been unable to identify the planets that may function as cosmic sculptors for these arms.

“It was an open question as to why we hadn’t seen any of these planets yet,” Wagner said. “Most models of planet formation suggest that giant planets should be very bright shortly after their formation, and such planets should have already been detected.”

And to your surprise, the spiral arms of the host star have been keenly observed and discovered by LBTI. Here is how this university formed this particular information!

University of Arizona’s LBTI Uncovers MWC 758c in Mid-Infrared Spectrum

Using the Large Binocular Telescope Interferometer (LBTI), the University of Arizona discovered the spiral arms dealer at MWC 758. While most exoplanet-hunting telescopes explore for planets beyond the solar system using short wavelengths at the blue end of the electromagnetic spectrum, this University of Arizona-built equipment can scan the sky at longer wavelengths in the mid-infrared area.

This suggests that, while MWC 758c managed to elude other telescopes with its odd and surprising red-hue, it couldn’t fool the LBTI.

Because of the thermal glow of the Earth’s atmosphere and the telescope itself, longer, redder wavelengths are more challenging to detect than shorter, bluer wavelengths, according to LBTI chief instrument scientist Steve Ertel.

When discovering planets hiding around their stars, the LBTI, one of the most sensitive infrared telescopes ever built, can even exceed the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), which likewise scans the cosmos in infrared. The team also has theories on how the planet remained undiscovered for so long.

Thus, two models were explored that could be why this planet is brighter and has long wavelengths.

What Two Models Are Explored for Mysterious Planet MWC 758c that Formed Spiral Arms?

Ertel said:

“We propose two different models for why this planet is brighter at longer wavelengths. Either this is a planet with a colder temperature than expected, or it is a planet that’s still hot from its formation, and it happens to be enshrouded by dust.”

If MWC 758c is blanketed in dust, the dust will absorb short-wavelength light, causing the planet to seem brilliant only at longer red wavelengths.

If the exoplanet is surrounded by dust, it might mean it is still growing or accumulating its moons, just like the solar system’s gas giant Jupiter did billions of years ago.

“In the other scenario of a colder planet surrounded by less dust, the planet is fainter and emits more of its light at longer wavelengths,” research co-author and University of Arizona theoretical astrophysicist Kaitlin Kratter said.

Now, you must be wondering how this discovery could further help in scientific studies. If yes, then here you go!

What are the Implications for Planet Formation Theories and Exoplanet Hunting Strategies?

If this chillier model for MWC 758c is correct, it suggests that something is happening in developing planetary systems like this that cause planets to form colder than predicted. This might have an influence on planet formation theories as well as the approaches now used by astronomers to find exoplanets.

“In either case, we now know that we need to start looking for redder protoplanets in these systems with spiral arms,” Wagner said.

The researchers that discovered MWC 758c will now use the JWST to observe the exoplanet in 2024 to discern between various scenarios at work in this young planetary system.

“Depending on the results that come from the JWST observations, we can begin to apply this newfound knowledge to other stellar systems,” Wagner said, “and that will allow us to make predictions about where other hidden planets might be lurking and will give us an idea as to what properties we should be looking for to detect them.”

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