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Thousands of extrasolar planets (“exoplanets”) have been discovered over the past two decades. Astronomers seeking to understand the astonishing variety of planetary masses and orbital separations that characterize these myriad exoplanet systems, as well as the earliest evolution of our own solar system, must carefully study exoplanet birthplaces: dusty, molecule-rich protoplanetary disks orbiting young stars. ASPIRE’s astrophysicists are exploiting the recently commissioned Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) radio interferometer as well as the latest generation of adaptive optics (AO) cameras on the world’s largest (8-meter-class) optical/infrared telescopes to make advances in the study of protoplanetary disks.

A prime example is the “library” of subarcsecond-resolution ALMA molec- ular emission images of the nearby, young, close binary system V4046 Sagitarii that was recently assembled, analyzed, and published by ASPIRE’s Kastner, RIT AST graduate student Annie Dickson-Vandervelde, and collaborators. V4046 Sgr is a binary T Tauri system of age ∼20 Myr that lies just 72.4 pc from Earth. The ALMA observations were obtained in the 1.1–1.4 mm wavelength range with antenna configurations involving maximum baselines of several hundred meters, yielding subarcsecond-resolution images in more than a dozen molecular species and isotopologues (Fig. 1). This ALMA image library of V4046 Sgr hence elucidates, on linear size scales of ∼30–40 au, the chemical structure of the evolved, protoplanetary disk orbiting the close (2.4 day period) binary system. This study of the “molecular anatomy” of the circumbinary disk orbiting V4046 Sgr should serve as motivation for additional subarcsecond ALMA molecular line imaging surveys of nearby, evolved protoplanetary disks aimed at addressing major uncertainties in protoplanetary disk physical and chemical structure and molecular production pathways.

In another new ALMA-based paper on V4046 Sgr, LAMA postdoc Ruiz-Rodriguez, Kastner, and team present and analyze the highest-resolution continuum and scattered-light images obtained to date of this circumbinary disk. Ruiz-Rodriguez et al. observed the disk with ALMA at 870 μm (Band 7) during Cycle 4, and analyzed these data in conjunction with archival H band polarimetric images taken with SPHERE/IRDIS on the ESO Very Large Telescope. They investigated whether the ring structures detected in these images can be accounted for by models that combine two-dimensional two-fluid (gas + particle) hydrodynamical calculations with three-dimensional Monte Carlo radiative transfer simulations to simultaneously model the potential observational signatures of protoplanet-induced gaps at millimeter and near-infrared wavelengths. Ruiz-Rodriguez et al. find that a single planet with a mass in the range between 0.3 and 1.5 MJ orbiting at 20 au from the central star can well reproduce the combination of a deep gap in scattered light and a surrounding bright 870 μm ring. These results represent perhaps the best present constraints on the mass of a putative (as-yet undetected) circumbinary protoplanet.

ASPIRE astrophysicists are also developing strategies to search for and characterize additional examples of nearby, young, low-mass stars by combining data from NASA’s high-energy archives, such as Galex UV photometry and X-ray data from ROSAT, Chandra, and XMM, with Gaia astrometric and photometric data. In a recent study, we selected nearly 400 candidate nearby, young, late-type stars in the approximate mass range 0.5–1.0 M⊙ from the Gaia Data Release 1 (DR1) TGAS catalog on the basis of (a) D < 125 pc, (b) Galex UV detection, and (c) isochronal age ≤80 Myr. Approximately 10% of these candidates lie within 50 pc of Earth and, hence, potentially represent excellent targets for direct-imaging searches for young, self-luminous planets. We have performed a complete spectroscopic and kinematic analysis of this sample, folding in data from Gaia Data Release 2 (DR2), 2MASS/WISE data, ROSAT X-ray data, and optical/IR data from Vizier catalogs. This analysis has established that only a small percentage (<10%) of stars among this (kinematically unbiased) sample can be confidently associated with established nearby, young moving groups (NYMGs). The majority display anomalous kinematics, relative to the known NYMGs. In addition to their non-young-star-like kinematics, the majority of the UV-selected, isochronally young field stars within 50 pc appear surprisingly X-ray faint. These stars may hence represent a previously unrecognized population of young stars that has recently mixed into the older field star population.

: The “library” of subarcsecond-resolution ALMA images of the V4046 Sgr disk presented in the paper,
The “library” of subarcsecond-resolution ALMA images of the V4046 Sgr disk presented in the paper, “A Subarcsecond ALMA Molecular Line Imaging Survey of the Circumbinary, Protoplanetary Disk Orbiting V4046 Sgr” (Kastner et al. 2018, ApJ, 863, 106).