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Webb Observes a Planetary System that has Recently Completed Formation

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Webb Sees a System That Just Finished Forming its Planets

Nearly 5 billion years ago, a region of gas gravitationally collapsed within a vast molecular cloud. At the center of this region, the Sun began to form, and around it formed a protoplanetary disk of gas and dust. This disk eventually led to the formation of Earth and the other planets in our solar system. While we have observed this process in systems throughout the galaxy, there are still details that remain a mystery to us, such as why gas planets are relatively rare in our system.

Our solar system consists of only four gas planets, with the rest being rocky worlds in the inner solar system. The abundance of volatile gases in early protoplanetary disks makes it puzzling as to how a gassy disk can evolve into a system predominantly made up of rock. Recent observations of a young system known as TCha have shed some light on this process.

During the later stages of planetary formation, the central star brightens, causing winds within the disk to clear the remaining gas from the system. While this model can explain the planetary systems we see, direct observations of this process have been lacking until now.

winds
How photon pressure can clear a planetary system of gas. Credit: Naman S. Bajaj, et al

The TCha system, in its late stages of planetary formation, has a large dust gap within its disk, indicating that much of the early material has already been cleared. A recent study utilizing observations from the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) focused on measuring spectral lines of ionized argon and neon. This study marks the first observation of a particular argon line, Ar III.

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The team made two significant discoveries. Firstly, the ionizing energy levels indicate that argon is mainly ionized by extreme ultraviolet light, while neon is predominantly ionized by X-rays. Secondly, both gases are rapidly expanding away from the star, as evidenced by the Doppler shift of the spectral lines. These findings suggest that the gases are part of a stellar wind driven by high-energy photons.

Based on these observations, the team estimates that the TCha disk is losing mass rapidly, with an amount equivalent to a Moon’s mass being shed each year. This rate of mass loss aligns with observations of other planetary systems and supports the standard model of planetary evolution.

Reference: Naman S. Bajaj, et al. “JWST MIRI MRS Observations of T Cha: Discovery of a Spatially Resolved Disk Wind.” The Astronomical Journal 167 (2024): 127.

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California court case pits transgender rights against parental notification laws

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Transgender rights have become a contentious issue in California, especially when it comes to parental notification. The state is embroiled in legal battles over initiatives that seek to restrict the rights of transgender youth, with opponents arguing that such measures violate student privacy and civil rights. At the heart of the debate is the question of whether parents should be notified if their child identifies as transgender, unofficially or in school records.

A proposed November ballot initiative, currently named “Restricts Rights of Transgender Youth” by Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta’s office, aims to require schools to notify parents in such cases. Supporters of the initiative, however, prefer a title like “Protect Kids of California Act” to reflect their beliefs. With the deadline to submit signatures approaching, initiative backers are facing an uphill battle due to the state’s chosen name for the measure.

The legal showdown over the initiative’s title is just one of many skirmishes in California’s education culture wars. Conservative school boards in some districts have approved policies that limit discussions about LGBTQ+ issues, leading to clashes with state authorities. These disputes have now spilled into courtrooms, with far-reaching implications for state and local school policies.

At the heart of the debate is the tension between parental rights and student privacy. Supporters of parental notification argue that parents have a fundamental right to be involved in their children’s education, especially on sensitive matters like gender identity. On the other hand, opponents contend that blanket notification policies violate student privacy and could put transgender students at risk.

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Several school districts in California have become battlegrounds for these issues, with lawsuits flying back and forth over parental notification policies and curriculum restrictions. From Chino Valley to Temecula, conservative and liberal factions are at odds over how best to address transgender issues in schools.

Despite the legal battles, the fight over transgender rights in California shows no signs of abating. As more districts grapple with these contentious issues, the state’s education landscape is likely to remain a hotbed of controversy for the foreseeable future.

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