University of Warwick Researchers Make Breakthrough in Understanding Planet Formation

University of Warwick Researchers Make Breakthrough in Understanding Planet Formation

University of Warwick Researchers Make Breakthrough in Understanding Planet Formation / Image credit: Dr Mark Garlick/The University of Warwick

(IN BRIEF) Scientists from the University of Warwick have made a groundbreaking discovery in the field of planet formation. By studying protoplanetary discs, the regions of gas and dust surrounding stars, they have uncovered a new method of planet formation called “sandwiched planet formation.” The researchers found that two large planets in the protoplanetary disc can restrict the flow of dust, resulting in the formation of a smaller planet in between them. This discovery challenges conventional views on planet formation and offers a potential explanation for the presence of smaller planets like Mars and Uranus surrounded by larger planets. The study was funded by The Royal Society and presented at the National Astronomy Meeting.

(PRESS RELEASE) COVENTRY, 3-Jul-2023 — /EuropaWire/ — Scientists at the University of Warwick have made a groundbreaking discovery shedding new light on the formation of small planets. The researchers investigated the birth environment of planets, known as protoplanetary discs, which are regions of gas and dust swirling around a central star.

In their study, submitted to the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society and presented at the National Astronomy Meeting, the team unveiled a previously unknown method of planet formation termed “sandwiched planet formation.” They demonstrated how two large planets within a protoplanetary disc can create conditions for a smaller planet to form between them.

The unique dynamics arise from the two original large planets hindering the inward flow of dust, resulting in a reduced accumulation of dust between them compared to regions without an outer planet. Consequently, if the accumulated dust were to coalesce and form a planet, the middle planet would likely be smaller than its neighboring planets, resembling the filling of a sandwich.

While further research is required to explore this phenomenon, the findings offer a potential explanation for the formation of small planets like Mars and Uranus, which are surrounded by larger planets.

Associate Professor Farzana Meru, a Dorothy Hodgkin Fellow from the Department of Physics at the University of Warwick, explained the significance of the study, stating, “Our study proposes that the rings in protoplanetary discs serve as sites for sandwiched planet formation. This challenges the conventional view of planet formation and opens up new questions for astronomers worldwide.”

The field of planet formation has witnessed a revolution in recent years, fueled by high-resolution images of planet-forming discs captured by advanced telescopes like the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array. These images have provided valuable insights into the formation and evolution of planets, positioning the researchers at the forefront of this exciting research.

Funded by The Royal Society, the study marks a significant milestone in our understanding of planet formation and offers fresh avenues for exploring the mysteries of our universe.

The NAM 2023 conference is principally sponsored by the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS), the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) and Cardiff University.

About the Royal Astronomical Society

The Royal Astronomical Society (RAS), founded in 1820, encourages and promotes the study of astronomy, solar-system science, geophysics and closely related branches of science. The RAS organises scientific meetings, publishes international research and review journals, recognises outstanding achievements by the award of medals and prizes, maintains an extensive library, supports education through grants and outreach activities and represents UK astronomy nationally and internationally. Its more than 4,000 members (Fellows), a third based overseas, include scientific researchers in universities, observatories and laboratories as well as historians of astronomy and others. Follow the RAS on TwitterFacebookInstagram and YouTube.

About Cardiff University

Cardiff University is recognised in independent government assessments as one of Britain’s leading teaching and research universities and is a member of the Russell Group – the UK’s most research intensive universities. The 2021 Research Excellence Framework found 90% of the University’s research to be world-leading or internationally excellent. Among its academic staff are two Nobel Laureates, including the winner of the 2007 Nobel Prize for Medicine, Professor Sir Martin Evans. Founded by Royal Charter in 1883, today the University combines impressive modern facilities and a dynamic approach to teaching and research. The University’s breadth of expertise encompasses: the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences; the College of Biomedical and Life Sciences; and the College of Physical Sciences and Engineering. Its University institutes bring together academics from a range of disciplines to tackle some of the challenges facing society, the economy, and the environment. More at

Media contacts:

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University of Warwick

Dr Robert Massey

Royal Astronomical Society
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Ms Gurjeet Kahlon

Royal Astronomical Society
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Ms Megan Eaves

Royal Astronomical Society



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