Researchers have discovered clear evidence of the birth of a planet in a star 520 light years away. In a dense disk of dust and gas, the astronomers found a striking spiral structure with a “kink”, as the European Southern Observatory (ESO) announced in Garching on Wednesday. This “kink” therefore marks the place where a planet may form.
The “kink” could thus provide the first direct proof of the birth of a baby planet. The scientists were able to observe using ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile. The new knowledge about an emerging planetary system at the young star AB Aurigae has now been published in the journal “Astronomy & Astrophysics”.
“Thousands of exoplanets have been identified, but little is known about how they form,” said Anthony Boccaletti, who led the study at the Observatoire de Paris. Astronomers know that planets are born in dusty disks around young stars when cold gas and dust clump together – like AB Aurigae. The new observations could now help to better understand this process.
“We have to observe very young systems to capture the moment when planets form,” said Boccaletti. So far, according to ESO, astronomers have not been able to take sufficiently sharp and deep images of these young discs.
Spiral of dust and gas
The new pictures now show an impressive spiral of dust and gas around the star AB Aurigae in the constellation Fuhrmann. Spirals of this type signal the existence of baby planets that “push” the gas and thereby “create disruptions in the disc in the form of a wave, similar to the wake of a boat on a lake,” said Emmanuel Di Folco of the Bordeaux Astrophysics Laboratory (LAB) in France .
As the planet rotates around the central star, this wave is shaped into a spiral arm, according to ESO. The very bright, yellow “kink zone” that has now been observed could be one of these sturgeons on which, according to the research team, a planet is being created.
“This process is expected from some theoretical models of planet formation,” said co-author Anne Dutrey, who also works at the LAB. “It represents the connection of two spirals.”
According to Dutrey, one spiral winds inward from the planet’s orbit, the other expands outward and connects at the location of the emerging planet. In this way, gas and dust from the disk accumulated on the baby planet that was formed and subsequently allowed it to grow.
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