Birth of baby planet captured

 

For the first time ever, scientists believe they have captured the first direct evidence of a baby planet being born.

Images and footage taken by the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope showed a swirling mass of amber gas and dust, with scientists believing the bright yellow twist at the centre of the formation is proof of a new planet emerging.

Scientists believe the yellow ‘swirl’ formation at the centre is a telltale sign of a baby planet forming. Picture: ESO/Boccaletti et al
Scientists believe the yellow ‘swirl’ formation at the centre is a telltale sign of a baby planet forming. Picture: ESO/Boccaletti et al

The planet was found around the young star AB Aurigae and while astronomers have identified over 4000 exoplanets (a planet found outside the solar system) little is known about how they form, said Anthony Boccaletti who led the study from the Observatoire de Paris, PSL University, France.

"We need to observe very young systems to really capture the moment when planets form," he said.

It's believed planets are born when discs of cold gas and dust clump together, creating a 'swirling motion'. However astronomers were previously unable to capture images sharp or deep enough to identify the telltale 'twist'.

The image on the right is a zoomed-in version of the area indicated by a red square on the image on the left. The very-bright-yellow twist (circled in white) marks the spot where scientists believe a planet is forming. Picture: ESO/Boccaletti et al
The image on the right is a zoomed-in version of the area indicated by a red square on the image on the left. The very-bright-yellow twist (circled in white) marks the spot where scientists believe a planet is forming. Picture: ESO/Boccaletti et al

"The twist is expected from some theoretical models of planet formation," co-author of the study, Anne Dutrey, from the Astrophysics Laboratory of Bordeaux, said.

"It corresponds to the connection of two spirals - one winding inwards of the planet's orbit, the other expanding outwards - which join at the planet location. They allow gas and dust from the disc to accrete onto the forming planet and make it grow."

Located 520 light-years away from Earth, AB Aurigae is believed to be around 2.4 times the mass of the sun and located within our Milky Way galaxy.

According to Dr Boccaletti, the baby planet is located about 30 times further from AB Aurigae than Earth's distance from our sun, which is around the same placement as the planet Neptune.

The findings from the study will be published in the scientific journal, Astronomy & Astrophysics.

Originally published as Birth of baby planet captured


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