Missing planet mystery could be solved with simulations

Scientists have revealed that it could be possible to solve the missing planet mystery through simulations thereby answering some of the intriguing questions as to why planets are rarely observed near the outer rings.

Researchers used the world’s most powerful supercomputer dedicated to astronomy, ATERUI II at the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, to simulate the case of a planet moving away from its initial formation site. Scientists say that their supercomputer simulations show that after creating a ring, a planet can move away and leave the ring behind. The study bolsters the planet theory for ring formation and the the simulations show that a migrating planet can produce a variety of patterns matching those actually observed in disks.

Young stars are encircled by protoplanetary disks of gas and dust. One of the world’s most powerful radio telescope arrays, ALMA (Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array), has observed a variety of patterns of denser and less dense rings and gaps in these protoplanetary disks. Gravitational effects from planets forming in the disk are one theory to explain these structures, but follow-up observations looking for planets near the rings have largely been unsuccessful.

Their results showed that in a low viscosity disk, a ring formed at the initial location of a planet doesn’t move as the planet migrates inwards. The team identified three distinct phases. In Phase I, the initial ring remains intact as the planet moves inwards. In Phase II, the initial ring begins to deform and a second ring starts forming at the new location of the planet. In Phase III, the initial ring disappears and only the latter ring remains.

These results help explain why planets are rarely observed near the outer rings, and the three phases identified in the simulations match well with the patterns observed in actual rings. Higher resolution observations from next-generation telescopes, which will be better able to search for planets close to the central star, will help determine how well these simulations match reality.

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