Project E

Unfolding the intricate realm of a nascent protostar

Marta De Simone, Luca Cacciapuoti & Enrique Macias

(email advisors)

Do planetary systems really form from a symmetric collapse of quasi-spherical clouds? Modern sensitive radio-telescopes revealed asymmetric gas and dust structures infalling onto young protostars and their planet-forming disks, challenging the classic scenario. Join us to unveil the mysteries of such structures around the protostar M512 in the Orion cloud. 

We have long thought that stars and planets form exclusively from the gravitational collapse of clouds of gas and dust. Stars, however, are born in dynamic and complex environments where they interact with the surrounding interstellar medium (ISM). This interaction can lead to the capture and infall of material onto the inner, star- and planet-forming system. In very recent years, radio telescopes like ALMA have unveiled a gallery of such elongated structures called "streamers". These structures can potentially replenish the inner system with fresh material, increasing its mass budget to form planets, they can deliver new molecules from the ISM to the planet-forming disk and even trigger new chemical reactions through shocks. 

The young protostar M512 in the Orion molecular cloud is one of the perfect cases to study the impact of these structures on the star formation process. Indeed, it presents a long asymmetric gas streamer. This project aims to unveil the physical and dynamical origins of several structures around M512. Using the emission of different molecules (e.g., CO, HCO+, DCO+ and others), it will be possible to estimate related physical parameters, such as the gas mass of the structures. This investigation will help determine whether these structures are native to the cloud, outflowing from the protostar, falling onto its protoplanetary disk, or trace a combination of these scenarios. 

During this project, the student will be familiarised with widely used software to explore and analyse ALMA data, i.e., the Common Astronomical Software Applications (CASA) and the Cube Analysis and Rendering Tool for Astronomy (CARTA). Tasks will include creating sky maps of different gas species, exploring their kinematics, and investigating the chemistry that links them with custom-made python scripts. Additionally, the emission spectra of these species will be analysed to extract quantitative information on the system, such as gas abundances and masses.

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