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Physics and Astronomy
Completed Project

Detecting Hidden Planets in the Process of Formation

Adam Moses ’21, Hannah Stickler, Wellesley ’22, and Professor Colette Salyk (Physics)

Protoplanetary disks are the dusty feeding grounds around young stars out of which planets coalesce and grow.  However, their small angular sizes and dustiness present challenges for detecting and studying planets embedded within them. One means of probing the hidden properties of these disks is via spectroscopy of rovibrational emission lines of carbon monoxide (CO), whose characteristics can be an indication of an embedded planet (e.g., Brittain et al. 2014; Regály et al. 2010, 2014). We present data and analysis of a number of 12C16O v=1-0 and v=2-1 emission lines originating from the protoplanetary disks around the young stars AS 205 N and AB Aurigae with the goal of identifying variability, possibly due to planets in the disks. The data from AS 205 N clearly show emission that decreases in intensity with time.  The decrease occurs primarily for molecules with lower speeds, which correspond to greater orbital distances. This phenomenon could be due either to a decrease in emitting surface area (found to be about 15%), a decrease in temperature, or some combination of the two. The emission lines from AB Aurigae showed no significant variability; and had relatively low flux values.