A recent study from the University of Central Lancashire has provided exciting insights into how planets form. Scientists have discovered that young planets are not spherical as previously thought but have a flat shape, akin to Smarties candies.
Computer simulation of planets forming in a protostellar disk.
This finding, stemming from computer simulations, reveals that these protoplanets quickly arise from large rotating gas disks around young stars. These shapes, known as oblate spheroids, could help us better understand how even larger gas giants, bigger than Jupiter, develop.
Led by Dr. Adam Fenton and his colleague Dr. Dimitris Stamatellos, the team investigated how various conditions such as gas temperature and density influence planet formation. Their research required intensive computer calculations, solidifying the disk instability theory. This theory suggests that large planets can form rapidly and far from their star, thereby explaining some of the mysterious observations of exoplanets until now.
Simulation of a young planet viewed from above (left) and the side (right).
The study also revealed that young planets grow by accumulating matter on their poles rather than their equator. This peculiarity could change the way we observe planets through telescopes, as their appearance varies depending on the viewing angle. This discovery supports the disk instability model in planet formation, a theory until now less explored than the core accretion theory.
The scientists plan to continue their research with more advanced models to understand how the environment affects the shape of planets and to determine their chemical composition. These efforts are critical for future observations with the James Webb Space Telescope and other facilities like ALMA and the VLT.