In young solar systems, it is common to experience titanic collisions. The collision of the protoplanet Theia with Earth 4.5 billion years ago resulted in the birth of the Moon. A series of collisions created a swirling mass ejecta which eventually formed the Moon. It is called the Giant Impact Hypothesis.
Astronomers believe that these collisions are common in the formation of planets in young solar systems. However, it has been difficult to see any collisions with other stars.
One of these systems is still in its early days, according to an astronomer team. The evidence suggests that a collision occurred between an Earth-sized planet with a smaller impactor, which stripped the atmosphere from the larger one. It occurred around 200,000 years ago. Although previous research has confirmed that there was likely to be a collision, atmospheric stripping is a new discovery.
Their observations were detailed in a Nature paper. The paper is titled Carbon Monoxide gas produced in the inner region of a youthful system by a massive impact. It was written by Tajana Schneiderman, a graduate student at MIT's Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences.
This discovery centers around a star that astronomers first noticed in the 1980s. It is called HD 172555, and it is approximately 95 light-years from Earth. It is also about 23 million years in age. It was noted for its brightness in the middle-infrared. Astronomers believe that the solar system is still young and in the early stages for creating terrestrial planets.
Astronomers expect to see pyroxene or olivine when a solar system forms terrestrial planets. HD 172555, however, is surrounded instead by unanticipated materials such as SiO gas and amorphous silicon. Because SiO gas is essentially vaporized rock and was present, something very energetic occurred to vaporize. The star is also surrounded with a lot dust. The dust grains in this instance are extremely fine.
The rock could have been vaporized into SiO only by a high-speed impact. It takes a lot energy to vaporize rocks. Only speeds of over 10 km/s or 22,000 mph are possible.
This spectrum or plot of infrared information from NASA's Spitzer Space telescope shows the presence of vaporized rock and melted rocks around the young star HD 172555. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/C. Lisse (Johns Hopkins University.)
There's more. There is fine-grained dust, vaporized rocks and dust orbiting HD 1725555. The star also has a ring made of carbon monoxide which co-orbits with the SiO as well as the dusty debris. Researchers believe that this is also due to collision. The CO may be a part of the larger planet's atmosphere that was ripped away by the collision, according to the researchers. The team was excited by the dual detection of CO and debris.
These two factors have led to HD 172555 being deemed a strange system, Schneiderman stated in a press release.
Tajana Schneiderman, the lead author, said that this is the first time they have detected this phenomenon. It involves a protoplanetary atmosphere being stripped in a huge impact. We all want to see a giant impact, and we don't have enough evidence. These dynamics now have more insight.
This research was made possible by the crucial role played by carbon monoxide, which is a dissolved gas orbiting the star. Because of its brightness, astronomers search for CO. Schneiderman said that carbon monoxide is the most visible gas when people are trying to find debris disks. We looked again at HD 172555 carbon monoxide data because it was interesting.
The team pored over data from ALMA (Atacama Large Millimeter/sub-millimeter Array), a powerful array of radio dishes that work as an interferometer. They searched for CO evidence in the data, and they found it. The team was able to measure its abundance, and it is estimated that CO is about 10 times as heavy as the entire Earth's atmosphere.
Its location was more interesting than the significance of having so much CO. It was located only 10 AU away from the star, which is quite close. According to the paper, normal gas and dust would be found in protoplanetary disks that extend to hundreds or tens of thousands of AU.
Schneiderman suggests that there must be a reason for the presence of carbon monoxide so close to the surface.
It's not just the CO's proximity that needs explanation. It is the fact that it exists. While young stars are born with primordial discs of dust and gas, very few survive as long as HD 172555. To survive at 23 million years, this gas must have been protected. The authors note that young A-type stars are formed in the midst of protoplanetary disks made of primordial gas and dirt, but only 23% of them survive beyond 3 Myr. Even if the CO detected around HD 172555 was primordial, its lifetime would be extended by shielding. The system would still be a remarkable exception not only in age (at 23 Myr) but also in terms of dust mass.
The combination of the CO, fine-grained dust and the star's type of material makes for a unique system. It is possible that it formed in this manner without any explanation. According to the authors, it is possible, but not likely.
It would be difficult to explain it without high-speed impacts. There may be other planets that orbit the star, which could have shaped the disk and kept CO close to the star. It is possible that the solar nebula's shocks vaporized the rock and made SiO gas. This would be similar to what happened in our Solar System. It is possible that a continuous series of collisions between asteroids could have created the immense amount of dust found around HD 172555.
According to the authors, this is unlikely. The authors also don't believe any other explanations, such as an inward scattering comets from something similar to the Kuiper Belt in our Solar System.
This is an artist's illustration of HD 17255. Astronomers who used the Hubble Space Telescope to find carbon monoxide, silicon gas and other elements around HD 17255 in 2017 discovered it. They attributed this to comets falling from the far reaches of our solar system. This new research shows that it can only be explained by titanic collisions of planets. Image credit: NASA, ESA and A. Feild (STScI).
According to the authors, there is only one conclusion.
They write that the detection and morphology CO gas and previous evidence from dust imaging and spectrumcopy support a picture of a massive impact at least 0.2 Myr?ago in outer terrestrial planet-forming regions of the 23-Myr old HD?172555 system. These kinds of planetary impacts are common in systems this age.
Schneiderman states that of all the possible scenarios, it is the only one that can fully explain the data. We expect to see giant impacts in systems of this age. In fact, we think that they will be quite common. The time scales are correct, the age is right, and the morphological as well as compositional constraints are correct. In this situation, the only possible process that could create carbon monoxide is a huge impact.
The discovery of CO at HD 172555 could prove to be a boon for the study and analysis of young solar systems.
Schneiderman said that there is potential for further research beyond the current system. Our research shows that carbon monoxide can be found in places and morphologies consistent with giant impacts. This opens up new possibilities for studying the behavior of debris in the aftermath and looking for giant impacts.