Nav: Home

OU researchers team with citizen scientists to discover a rare circumstellar disk

October 24, 2016

A team led by a University of Oklahoma astrophysicist discovered a rare and surprising new circumstellar disk: the oldest of its kind. They made this discovery working together with a remarkable team of collaborators with no formal training in astrophysics: citizen scientists from around the world.

In a paper that appeared in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, the authors describe a newly identified red dwarf star with a warm circumstellar disk of the kind associated with young planetary systems. Circumstellar disks around red "M" dwarfs like this one are rare to begin with. But this star, called AWI0005x3s, appears to have kept its disk for an exceptionally long time.

"Most disks of this kind fade away in less than 30 million years," says Steven Silverberg, a graduate student in the Homer L. Dodge Department of Physics and Astronomy at OU, and the lead author on the paper. "This particular red dwarf is a candidate member of the Carina association, which would make it around 45 million years old. 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, to find new circumstellar disks. At the project's website, DiskDetective.org, users view ten-second videos of data from NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer mission (WISE), NASA's Two-Micron All Sky Survey (2MASS) project, and other surveys. Since the launch of the website in January 2014, roughly 30,000 citizen scientists have participated in this process, performing roughly 2 million classifications of celestial objects.

"The WISE mission found 747 million objects, of which we expect a few thousand to be disks like this," Silverberg explains. "Without help from citizen scientists examining these objects and finding the good ones, we would have never spotted this object."

Eight of these citizen scientists are featured by name as co-authors on the published paper.

"Unraveling the mysteries of our universe, while contributing to the advancement of astronomy, is, without a doubt, a dream come true," says Hugo Durantini Luca, a citizen science co-author from Argentina, "especially while working alongside some of the best people from around the world."

"I've loved astronomy since childhood and wanted to be part of the space program, as did every boy my age," adds Milton Bosch, a citizen scientist co-author from California. "I feel very fortunate to be part of such a great group of dedicated people, and am thrilled to partake in this adventure of discovery and be a co-author on this paper."

Determining the age of a star can be tricky or impossible. But the Carina association, where this star was found, is a group of stars whose motions through the Galaxy indicate that they were all born at roughly the same time in the same stellar nursery. Membership in one of these groups provides a reliable way to estimate the star's age. Knowing that this star and its disk are so old may help scientists understand why M dwarf disks appear to be so rare.

This star and its disk are interesting for another reason: the likelihood that it hosts extrasolar planets. Most of the extrasolar planets that have been imaged by telescopes so far dwell in disks similar to the one around AWI0005x3s. Moreover, this particular star is the same spectral type as Proxima Centauri, the Sun's nearest neighbor, which was shown to host at least one exoplanet in research published earlier this year.
-end-
Disk Detective is a collaboration between NASA, Zooniverse, the University of Oklahoma, University of Cordoba (Argentina), National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, Space Telescope Science Institute, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Carnegie Institution of Washington and Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute. To join the search for more planetary habitats, go to http://www.diskdetective.org.

University of Oklahoma

Related Astronomy Articles:

An application of astronomy to save endangered species
The world's first project that combines drone technology with astrophysics to monitor the distribution and density of animal populations to help the conservation of endangered species.
The past, present & future of gravitational-wave astronomy, with Kip Thorne & Rainer Weiss
In an interview published online this week, the winners of the 2016 Kavli Prize in Astrophysics discuss their 40-year effort to detect gravitational waves, the elusive ripples in the fabric of space-time that Albert Einstein so boldly predicted.
Astronomy shown to be set in standing stone
University of Adelaide research has for the first time statistically proven that the earliest standing stone monuments of Britain, the great circles, were constructed specifically in line with the movements of the Sun and Moon, 5000 years ago.
RIT awarded a total of $1 million from NSF for gravitational-wave astronomy
RIT won more than $1 million in federal funding to study the dynamics of extreme black holes and to develop the Einstein Toolkit, making Einstein's equations user-friendly for scientists exploring the new field of gravitational wave astronomy.
Largest crowdsource astronomy network helps confirm discovery of 'Tatooine' planet
Lehigh University astronomer assistant professor of physics Joshua Pepper is using crowdsourcing to gather observations worldwide.
ESO signs largest ever ground-based astronomy contract for E-ELT dome and structure
At a ceremony in Garching bei München, Germany, ESO signed the contract with the ACe Consortium, consisting of Astaldi, Cimolai and the nominated sub-contractor EIE Group, for the construction of the dome and telescope structure of the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT).
John Beckman: 'Astronomy is a science that makes us humble'
The University of La Laguna celebrated the solemn act of investment as Doctor Honoris Causa of the astrophysicist John Beckman, Emeritus Research Professor of the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas and of the Astrophysics Department of the University of La Laguna, as well as researcher at the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias.
Launch of Astrosat first Indian astronomy satellite
The first Indian astronomy satellite Astrosat, was launched on Sept.
IAU signs agreements for 5 new coordinating offices of astronomy for development
The International Astronomical Union's (IAU) Office of Astronomy for Development has established new coordinating offices in Armenia, Colombia, Jordan, Nigeria and Portugal.
New era of astronomy as gravitational wave hunt begins
Australian scientists are in the hunt for the last missing piece of Einstein's General Theory of Relativity, gravitational waves, as the Advanced LIGO Project in the United States comes online.

Related Astronomy Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Bias And Perception
How does bias distort our thinking, our listening, our beliefs... and even our search results? How can we fight it? This hour, TED speakers explore ideas about the unconscious biases that shape us. Guests include writer and broadcaster Yassmin Abdel-Magied, climatologist J. Marshall Shepherd, journalist Andreas Ekström, and experimental psychologist Tony Salvador.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#513 Dinosaur Tails
This week: dinosaurs! We're discussing dinosaur tails, bipedalism, paleontology public outreach, dinosaur MOOCs, and other neat dinosaur related things with Dr. Scott Persons from the University of Alberta, who is also the author of the book "Dinosaurs of the Alberta Badlands".