Astronomers and Citizen Scientists Discover Oldest Known Planet-Forming Disk

Posted on October 21, 2016

Astronomers and citizen scientists have discovered the oldest known planet-forming circumstellar disk. The disk is located around a red dwarf star named AWI0005x3s estimated to be 45 million years old. The researchers say the star appears to have sustained its disk for an exceptionally long time.

Steven Silverberg of University of Oklahoma, the lead author of the study, says in the announcement, "Most disks of this kind fade away in less than 30 million years. This particular red dwarf is a candidate member of the Carina stellar association, which would make it around 45 million years old [like the rest of the stars in that group]. It's the oldest red dwarf system with a disk we've seen in one of these associations."

The discovery relied on citizen scientists from Disk Detective, a project led by NASA/GSFC's Dr. Marc Kuchner that's designed to find new circumstellar disks. About 30,000 citizen scientists have participated in this process since the website launched in Janury 2014.

Kuchner says, "Without the help of the citizen scientists examining these objects and finding the good ones, we might never have spotted this object. The WISE mission alone found 747 million [warm infrared] objects, of which we expect a few thousand to be circumstellar disks."

A research paper on the discovery was published here in the journal, The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

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