Tuesday, 02 June, 2020

Astronomers spot first potential evidence of new planet being born

The disc around the young AB Aurigae star where ESO's Very Large Telescope has spotted signs of planet birth is seen in polarised light and released Astronomers see signs of planet birth
Sandy Nunez | 22 May, 2020, 13:58

The new observations with ESO's VLT, published in Astronomy & Astrophysics ("Possible evidence of ongoing planet formation in AB Aurigae"), provide crucial clues to help scientists better understand this process.

"Thousands of exoplanets have been identified so far, but little is known about how they form", said lead author Dr. Anthony Boccaletti, an astronomer with the Observatoire de Paris. When this is done, astronomers think that the remaining disc begins to clump together to form other chunky bits found in planetary systems. 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 young star AB Aurigae floats in a part of space dubbed a "stellar nursery", meaning a region of intensive star formation. In reality, the baby planet symbolized by the spiral is quite far from the star, about the distance from Neptune to the sun.

Based on the information they've collected, the astronomers believe this twist marks the site of the first direct evidence of a baby planet coming into existence. These revealed an S-shaped disturbance in the protoplanetary disk that looks very much like the spiral density waves that astronomers would expect to see.

The spiral arm forms as the planet moves around the star, bending and shaping the wave. Amid the hypnotic spiral arms is a "twist", visible in the photo as a bright yellow region in the center that is thought to be a sign of a baby planet being born, according to Emmanuel Di Folco, a researcher at the Astrophysics Laboratory of Bordeaux in France, who participated in the study. It is roughly the same distance from the star as Neptune from the sun. Observations with the Atacama Large Millimeter / submillimeter Array (ALMA) showed rough spiral shapes in 2017, which might be sought after signatures of the formation of planets.

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The pictures captured by the SPHERE instrument on the VLT are the deepest images of the AB Aurigae system obtained to date.

Anne Dutrey, additionally at LAB and a examine co-author, stated: "The twist is anticipated from some theoretical fashions of planet formation". One is winding inwards towards the planet's orbit and the other is expanding outwards, kicking out the gas and dust, allowing a planet to grow.

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.

New Zealanders are leading the charge with Rocket Lab, as Nasa prepares to return to the Moon.

ESO is in the works of constructing the 127-foot Extremely Large Telescope, which will pull technology from both the ALMA and SPHERE to study extrasolar worlds. As Boccaletti explains, this powerful telescope will allow astronomers to get even more detailed views of planets in the making.