MIRI reveals that planets may form in harsher conditions than previously thought
04 Dec 2023



New insights into rocky-planet-forming regions of disks in the Lobster Nebula.


Artist’s impression of a young star surrounded by a protoplanetary disk in which planets are forming. 


A team of astronomers have used the James Webb Space Telescope​ to make observations in the intensely irradiated inner regions of a planet-forming disk within the Lobster Nebula. This marks the first detection of water and molecules in these extreme environments, suggesting broader conditions for forming planets than previously thought.

Their study, part of the eXtreme Ultraviolet Environments (XUE) programme, focuses on understanding planet formation in massive star-forming regions like the Lobster Nebula, known for its young age and massive stars emitting intense ultraviolet (UV) radiation. This radiation can disperse gas, impacting the formation of planets.

Using he Medium Resolution Spectrometer on JWST's Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) astronomers can now study the effect of the ​UV radiation on the inner rocky-planet forming regions of protoplanetary disks around stars like our Sun.

Arjan Bik of Stockholm University in Sweden and part of the research team said: “Only the MIRI wavelength range and spectral resolution allow us to probe the molecular inventory and physical conditions of the warm gas and dust where rocky planets form."

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