Astronomers spot first potential evidence of new planet being born

Rodiano Bonacci
Mag 21, 2020

In December 2019 and January 2020, an global team of scientists used the Very Large Telescope in Chile to take some high-contrast images of AB Aurigae in near-infrared light, resulting in highly detailed pictures of the protoplanetary cloud.

"The twist and its apparent orbital motion could well be the first direct evidence of a connection between a protoplanet candidate and its manifestation as a spiral imprinted in the gas and dust distributions", the team concluded.

This image shows the inner region of the disc around the young AB Aurigae star, where ESO's Very Large Telescope has spotted signs of planet birth.

More than 4,000 planets have been discovered orbiting stars beyond our solar system and scientists are eager to learn more about how they are born, as cold gas and dust consolidate in these disks surrounding new stars.

A fiery spiral structure has been spotted 520 light years from Earth that may be the first evidence of a new planet coming into existence.

Though the dynamics of how planets form are still very poorly understood, the basic accepted mechanism is that planets are produced inside the clouds of gas and dust found around young stars.

This video starts by showing a wider-field view of the AB Aurigae system, and then zooms in to the inner part of the disc.

After confirming the spiral arms, scientists noticed the "twist" that suggests an ongoing planet formation in the disc.

Planets' origin stories apparently come with a twist. The image was obtained with the VLT's SPHERE instrument in polarised light. But until now 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.

Speaking of the twist seen in the images, Anne Dutrey, co-author of the study revealing the astronomers' findings, said: "The twist is expected from some theoretical models of planet formation". "They allow gas and dust from the disk to accrete onto the forming planet and make it grow".

As instruments become more powerful (ESO is building a 39-meter Extremely Large Telescope), astronomers should be able to learn even more about the AB Aurigae system and how planets form.

"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.

In February, telescopes based in Chile also captured a fight between two stars, including the moment one star swallowed the other.

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