This is where ALMA comes in. The array of radio antennae are sensitive to emissions from the gas these transitional disks contain and through studies of 4 young stars, astronomers have found that inside these dust gaps, there are also gas gaps, but they are 3 times thinner. Only with ALMA's precision observations could these gas gaps be pinpointed and they can mean only one thing.
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"Previous observations already hinted at the presence of gas inside the dust gaps," said astronomer Nienke van der Marel, of Leiden Observatory in the Netherlands. "But as ALMA can image the material in the entire disc in much greater detail than other facilities, we could rule out the alternative scenario. The deep gap points clearly to the presence of planets with several times the mass of Jupiter, creating these caverns as they sweep through the disc."
Although we are looking at very alien star systems, it's studies such as these that will ultimately reveal how the planets in our own solar system formed, likely clearing up many mysteries surrounding our understanding of planetary evolution. And as observatories become more sophisticated answers are likely to come sooner rather than later.
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"Direct planetary detection is just within reach of current instruments, and the next generation telescopes currently under construction, such as the European Extremely Large Telescope, will be able to go much further. ALMA is pointing out where they will need to look," added Ewine van Dishoeck, also of Leiden Observatory and the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Garching, Germany.