A Dusty Twist Marks the Site of a New Planet’s Birth

This image shows the disc around the young AB Aurigae star, where ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) has spotted signs of planet birth. Close to the centre of the image, in the inner region of the disc, we see the ‘twist’ (in very bright yellow) that scientists believe marks the spot where a planet is forming. This twist lies at about the same distance from the AB Aurigae star as Neptune from the Sun. The image was obtained with the VLT’s SPHERE instrument in polarised lightCredit: ESO/Boccaletti et al.

 

All of the planets in our Solar System formed from a disk of dust and gas surrounding our home star—the Sun—about four and a half billion years ago. Many—maybe even most—of the stars we see in the sky have planets orbiting them, and they all probably formed the same way. But planetary formation is a very short time in a star’s total life span, cosmically speaking, and it’s very hard to actually observe it in action from here on Earth, both because of the small chances of it happening right now and of the difficulty of directly observing things as small as exoplanets in the bright glare of their host stars.

Today, astronomers using the European Southern Observatory in Chile have released actual images of the disk of dust surrounding a relatively nearby star, in which has been identified a spot where a planet is very likely in the process of forming right now.

 

From ESO:

Observations made with the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) have revealed the telltale signs of a star system being born. Around the young star AB Aurigae lies a dense disc of dust and gas in which astronomers have spotted a prominent spiral structure with a ‘twist’ that marks the site where a planet may be forming. The observed feature could be the first direct evidence of a baby planet coming into existence.

The new images feature a stunning spiral of dust and gas around AB Aurigae, located 520 light-years away from Earth in the constellation of Auriga. Spirals of this type signal the presence of baby planets, which ‘kick’ the gas, 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 participated in the study.

As the planet rotates around the central star, this wave gets shaped into a spiral arm. The very bright yellow ‘twist’ region close to the center of the new AB Aurigae image, which lies at about the same distance from the star as Neptune from the Sun, is one of these disturbance sites where the team believe a planet is being made.

Source/read more at: ESO Telescope Sees Signs of Planet Birth | ESO

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