Using the mid-infrared imager/spectrograph T-ReCS on Gemini South, David Ciardi (Michelson Science Center, Caltech) and his collaborators have found that processing of dust grains around the proto-binary star Serpens SVS20 began at a surprisingly early point in the system’s evolution.
The observations used both imaging and spectroscopic data to probe the young binary system located about 250 parsecs (815 light years) away. The system is located in the core region of the Serpens Cloud in a young protostellar cluster with an estimated age of about 100,000 years. The team’s conclusions were based on the observation of crystalline silicates associated with both stars in this young binary pair (Figure 1).
Figure 1. T-ReCS image at 11.7 microns of the protostar binary SVS20 in the Serpens Cloud core about 250 parsecs away. The two stars are about 1.5 arcseconds apart but are well separated by Gemini South/T-ReCS.
The young age of SVS20 (the same as its host cluster, about 100,000 years old) has allowed a detailed exploration of a critical early phase in the planetary formation process. The Ciardi et al. observations suggest that we are beginning to explore the earliest phases of planet formation, when primordial interstellar dust is being transformed into the larger and more complex particles that are the seeds of protoplanets. This analysis also indicates that the process of planetary formation, including that of our own solar system, is likely initiated during the earliest stages of stellar formation while the protostar is still accreting the majority of its mass.
The fact that the dust emission is not resolved spatially at the limit of the imaging data (FWHM 0.4 arcsecond) constrains the size of the circumstellar dust disk to within 100 astronomical units of the stars (about the size of our solar system out to the Kuiper Belt).
Although both components of the system (SVS20-North and SVS20-South) have similar broad-band energy distributions in the infrared, the temperatures and luminosities of the stars are very different. The brighter star (SVS20-South) has an effective temperature Teff ~ 7000 – 10000 K and luminosity of L ~ 20 –80 Lsun, whereas the smaller companion SVS20-N has Teff ~ 3000 K and L ~ 0.9 Lsun. The observed spectrum of SVS20-S is dominated by a strong emission feature at 11.3 microns, while that of SVS20-N is dominated by shallow absorption created by amorphous silicates. In addition to the amorphous silicates, both proto-stars show emission of crystalline silicates in the form of the minerals forsterite (Mg2SiO4) and enstatite (Mg2Si2O6) (Figure 2).
For more details, see the article “Crystalline Silicate Emission in the Protostellar Binary Serpens-SVS20”, by D. Ciardi, C. M. Telesco, C. Packham, C. Gomez Martin, J. T. Radomski, J. M. de Buizer, C. J. Phillips and D. Harker, The Astrophysical Journal (in press)
Figure 2. Top: T-ReCS mid-infrared spectra of SVS20-S and SVS20-N after removal of the envelope line-of-sight extinction model. The slanted dashed lines represent the continuum level for the overall emission. Bottom: the 10.5 to 12.1 micron spectra for the two protostars after subtraction of the local continuum. The spectra are dominated by amorphous olivine. Both sources show peaks near 11.3 and 10.9 microns. The central peak near 11.3 microns is tentatively associated with fosterite. The narrower peak at 10.9 microns is tentatively associated with enstatite. Enstatite and fosterite are two forms of crystalline silicates.