Astronomers spot likely first evidence of a new planet being born

A red yellow and orange spiral much like a cyclone with a black 'eye' in the centre

In the ALMA images, scientists spotted two spiral arms of gas close to the star, lying within the disc's inner region.

Astronomers have discovered the tell-tale signs of a star system being born, including a "twist" that could be our first ever glimpse of a baby planet forming.

This large young planet is forming around a star called AB Aurigae that is about 2.4 times the mass of the sun and located in our Milky Way galaxy 520 light-years from Earth, researchers said on Wednesday. This inner region includes the "twist" (in very bright yellow) that scientists believe marks the spot where a planet is forming.

The information was published this week in journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

Astronomers said the dramatic scene offers a rare glimpse into the formation of a baby planet, which could help scientists better understand how new planets come to exist around stars. In a huge disc of whirling gas and dust around the star, they identified a particular twist, which could show where another planet is shaping and approve a significant hypothesis about planetary development.

These resulted in the darkest images of the star that we have seen, catching fainter light from tiny dust grains. He and his team fine-tuned the SPHERE instrument on the VLT to observe if there had been any further developments. Over the past few months, Boccaletti and a team of astronomers from France, Taiwan, the USA and Belgium set out to capture a clearer picture by turning the SPHERE instrument on ESO's "Very Large Telescope" in Chile toward the star.

Several squat research buildings in a desert landscape with the milky way in the sky
The new planet being formed was spotted using ESO's Very Large Telescope in Chile

If the astronomers are correct, this image will reportedly be the first direct evidence of such an incredible event. 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.

The presence in a disk is marked by a spiral, formed when a baby planet has "kicked" the gas as it orbits around its evolving host star, creating "disturbances in the disc in the form of a wave, somewhat like the wake of a boat on a lake", explains Emmanuel Di Folco of the Astrophysics Laboratory of Bordeaux (LAB), France, who also participated in the study. 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.

ESO says that when it completes construction of the 39-m (128-ft) Extremely Large Telescope, which is planned for 2025, it expects to be able to see more details of the exoplanet's formation and the dynamics driving the process.

Planets outside of our solar system are referred to as exoplanets.

"It's not going to be a terrestrial planet", said Anthony Boccaletti, lead author and an astronomer at the Laboratory for Space Science and Astrophysical Instrumentation at the Paris Observatory in Meudon, France.


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