Water vapour and hydrogen in the terrestrial-planet-forming region of a protoplanetary disk

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Abstract

Planetary systems (ours included) formed in disks of dust and gas around young stars. Disks are an integral part of the star and planet formation process, and knowledge of the distribution and temperature of inner-disk material is crucial for understanding terrestrial planet formation, giant planet migration, and accretion onto the central star. Although the inner regions of protoplanetary disks in nearby star-forming regions subtend only a few nano-radians, near-infrared interferometry has recently enabled the spatial resolution of these terrestrial zones. Most observations have probed only dust, which typically dominates the near-infrared emission. Here I report spectrally dispersed near-infrared interferometric observations that probe the gas (which dominates the mass and dynamics of the inner disk), in addition to the dust, within one astronomical unit (1 au, the Sun-Earth distance) of the young star MWC 480. I resolve gas, including water vapour and atomic hydrogen, interior to the edge of the dust disk; this contrasts with results of previous spectrally dispersed interferometry observations. Interactions of this accreting gas with migrating planets may lead to short-period exoplanets like those detected around main-sequence stars. The observed water vapour is probably produced by the sublimation of migrating icy bodies, and provides a potential reservoir of water for terrestrial planets.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)562-564
Number of pages3
JournalNature
Volume447
Issue number7144
DOIs
StatePublished - May 31 2007
Externally publishedYes

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