Sat, Dec 28, 2013 - Page 4 News List

Research finds planets form much more quickly

Staff writer, with CNA

A Taiwanese researcher has discovered evidence of how planets formed in the early stages of the solar system, which could lead to a better understanding about how life on Earth emerged.

Lai Shih-ping (賴詩萍), a professor at National Tsing Hua University who leads an international research team, said previous studies indicated planets form millions or tens of millions of years after the birth of a star.

However, Lai’s discovery of a “protoplanetary” disk — a plate-like field upon which planets are formed — shows that planet formation could occur in less than 1 million years.

The findings are published in the latest issue of the scientific journal Astronomy and Astrophysics.

The project has taken Lai two years of planning with Nadia Murillo, a doctoral student in Germany, using the world’s most advanced radio telescopes, known as astronomical interferometers, developed jointly by European, US and Asian scientists.

A large group of radio telescopes, named the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) has enabled Lai’s team to examine a protostellar system called VLA1623A to better understand the correlation between the field and the planets.

“The ALMA is amazing. It’s 10 times more powerful than the Hubble telescope,” she said.

There are similarities between VLA1623A and our own solar system, which make it possible to apply some of the findings to Earth’s formation, Lai said.

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