Scientific Programs and Opportunities

Circumstellar Disks and Possible Planetary Systems

1Beta Pictoris 2Edge-on Disk 3IRAS of Beta Pictoris

"One of the great unanswered questions in astronomy concerns the existence of planetary systems around stars. A major discovery of the IRAS satellite project was the existence of dusty disks around nearby stars. A highly plausible picture is that such disks are formed about the star during the process of star formation, and planets form by aggregating the matter in the disks. The detailed mapping of these disks will enable the process of planet formation to be studied directly. With superb imaging at an infrared wavelength of 10 microns and with the extremely low background radiation from the telescope itself, it will be possible to study the structures of these disks about many nearby stars."

-Dr. Malcolm S. Longair, Chair of the Gemini Board 1994-1995

What is the nature of the particle disks that were discovered by IRAS around Beta Pictoris? Mapping the disks might reveal gaps caused by the presence of planets. At wavelengths of 10 microns and beyond, it will be possible to achieve a resolution with the Gemini telescopes as good as 0.3 arcsec, which corresponds to 1-2 AU (1 AU = mean Earth-Sun distance), or the scale of the Earth's orbit, for the nearest examples.

This program will require diffraction-limited image quality and low emissivity of the telescopes at thermal infrared wavelengths.

Image Credits: 1:ESO 2:HST 3:NOAO

Ruth A. Kneale / / February 27, 1998