Astronomers observe baby planet being born for first time ever

James Marshall
May 21, 2020

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.

The young star AB Aurigae floats in a part of space dubbed a "stellar nursery", meaning a region of intensive star formation. 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.

Until now astronomers had been unable to take clear images of young discs to see these twists.

The baby planet is forming relatively far from AB Aurigae - about 30 times the Earth-sun distance, or roughly equivalent to Neptune's distance from our sun, researchers said.

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

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.

The wave will then be trapped in the spiral arm as the planet rotates around the star.

Then, in 2019 and early 2020, 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 VLT in Chile toward the star.

This chart shows the location of the AB Aurigae system.

"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. In a massive disc of swirling gas and dust around the star, they detected a distinct twist, which could indicate where a new planet is forming and validate a major theory about planetary formation.

The ESO is now constructing the 39-metre Extremely Large Telescope, to study extrasolar worlds.

Dr Boccaletti said this powerful telescope would allow astronomers to get even more detailed views of planets in the making.

"However, we can say that we were likely able to catch a planet in the process of formation", said Observatoire de Paris astronomer Anthony Boccaletti, who led the research published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

Discuss This Article

FOLLOW OUR NEWSPAPER