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Published August 7, 1997 | public
Journal Article

A rotating disk of gas and dust around a young counterpart to β Pictoris


β Pictoris is the best known example of a main-sequence star encircled by a tenuous disk. Optical and infrared images of β Pic suggest that the disk is composed of dust grains which have been interpreted as the debris generated by the disruption of the asteroid-sized remnants of planet-formation processes. The star itself is relatively old, with an age in excess of 100 Myr. Here we present high-resolution millimetre-wave images of continuum and molecular-line emission from dust and gas surrounding a much younger star, MWC480: the stellar properties of MWC480 are similar to those of β Pic, but its age is just 6 Myr. The morphology of the circumstellar material and a comparison with the predictions of kinematic modelling indicate the presence of a rotating disk, gravitationally bound to the star. Moreover, the mass of the disk is greater than the minimum required to form a planetary system like our own. We therefore suggest that the disk around the young star MWC480 could be a progenitor of debris disks of the type associated with older stars such as β Pic, and so holds much promise for the study of both the origin of debris disks and the early stages of the formation of planetary systems.

Additional Information

© 1997 Macmillan Publishers Ltd. Received 28 April; accepted 17 June 1997. V.M. thanks M. Romans and N. Romans for their support. We thank the staff at the Owens Valley Radio Observatory for their assistance. The Owens Valley millimetre-wave array is supported by the NSF; array studies of young star and disk systems are supported in part by the Norris Planetary Origins project and by NASA's Origins of Solar Systems programme.

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