Astronomers Find ‘Twist’ Evidence of Baby Planet

Evidence of the formation of a new planet has been collected by scientists working at the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile.  
 
The discovery is the first of its kind, says lead scientist Anthony Boccaletti, from Observatoire de Paris.  
 
“Thousands of exoplanets have been identified so far, but little is known about how they form,” he said.  
 
An exoplanet is a planet that orbits a star, rather than a moon or the sun.  
 
Scientists say they believe the formation occurred 520 light-years away in the Auriga constellation, also known as the charioteer. Its main star, Capella, is the sixth brightest in the night sky.  
 
The planet itself was formed about 2.7817 billion miles away, however, from the star AB Aurigae, according to Science Daily.
 
Planets typically are formed near young stars such as the AB Aurigae in the Auriga constellation. The process of gas and dust cooling and condensing, though, has never before been documented.
 
Key to the research is the presence of a “twist” in the imagery. Scientists say the center spiral in the ball of condensed gas and dust indicates the formation of a new planet.  
 
The twist indicates movement, explained Emmanuel Di Folco, study co-author and an astrophysicist at the Astrophysics Laboratory of Bordeaux in France.
 
“Disturbances in the [disk] in the form of a wave, somewhat like the wake of a boat on a lake,” said Di Folco.  
 
The spiral moves to accommodate the new planet as it orbits the star, creating additional waves.  
 
An abstract of the study published in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics states that the twist matches a “planet-driven density wave model,” solidifying their claim. 
 
The study builds upon discoveries made in 2017 using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile, which hinted at the presence of a new planet, according to Forbes.  
 
After reviewing the research, Boccaletti and Di Falco, in addition to a team of astronomers from France, Taiwan, the U.S. and Belgium, began using the SPHERE telescope to capture imagery from AB Aurigae.  
 
The telescope “has delivered the deepest images ever obtained for AB Aur[igae] in scattered light,” the study abstract states.  
 
The team plans to continue its research upon the completion of the Extremely Large Telescope (ELT) in Chile in 2025. The ELT enables the study of exoplanets in extremely high levels of detail.  
 
“We should be able to see directly and more precisely how the dynamics of the gas contributes to the formation of planets,” said Boccaletti.  


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