Astronomers spot likely first evidence of a new planet being born

Pablo Tucker
May 21, 2020

Using the SPHERE facility attached to the Very Large Telescope in Chile, in December 2019 and January 2020, they made high-contrast observations of AB Aurigae in Near-Infrared.

According to Emmanuel Di Folco of the Astrophysics Laboratory of Bordeaux (LAB), spirals such as the one in Auriga could signal the presence of "baby planets".

The bright yellow "twist" at the centre is the new planet winding inwards into its orbit and expanding outwards to kick out gas and dust - making some room for itself.

Dr Boccaletti said the planet was located about 30 times further from its star than Earth's distance from the sun - about the distance of the planet Neptune in our solar system.

The planet is forming around a young star called AB Aurigae around 520 light-years from Earth.

Although telescopes such as the Atacama Large Millimetre/submillimetre Array (ALMA) has become very adept at observing planet-forming disks, astronomers had been unable to take sufficiently sharp and deep images of these young discs to find the twist that marks the spot where a baby planet may be coming to existence. In the image, this spiral is bright yellow and appears close to the center. In 2019 and mid-2020, stargazers from Belgium, France, Taiwan and the United States acquired the most profound pictures of the AB Aurigae framework to date.

The European Southern Observatory released a picture Wednesday of what astronomers believe shows the process of cosmic matter in the midst of a gravitational tipping point, collapsing into a new world around a nearby star.

Astronomers do know planets are born in dusty discs surrounding young stars, such AB Aurigae, but it hasn't been observed as yet. "They allow gas and dust from the disc to accrete onto the forming planet and make it grow".

Thanks to SPHERE's capabilities, the researchers were able to see light from the inner disk illuminating small dust grains. It's also believed to be responsible for the shape of spiral galaxies and interactions between Saturn's moons and rings, but in this case it's important because it indicates a crucial sign in planet formation. These images display dust-coming planets cause spiraling disturbances, which the researchers assume.

"The twist is expected from some theoretical models of planet formation", said Anne Dutrey, an astronomer at the Astrophysics Laboratory of Bordeaux and co-author of the study published Wednesday in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

"Thousands of exoplanets have been identified so far, but little is known about how they form", Anthony Boccaletti, an astronomer at the Observatoire de Paris in France and the lead author of a new study detailing the discovery, said in a statement.

It has been involved in spotting the first image of an extrasolar planet as well as tracking individual stars moving around the supermassive black hole at the centre of the Milky Way.

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