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Home / Science / For the first time, astronomers witness birth of new planet around a distant star

For the first time, astronomers witness birth of new planet around a distant star

The images, taken by the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (ESO’s VLT), show a dense disc of dust and gas around a young star AB Aurigae in which astronomers have spotted a prominent spiral structure with a ‘twist’ that marks the site where a planet may be forming.

science Updated: May 22, 2020 17:14 IST
hindustantimes.com | Edited by:Anubha Rohatgi
hindustantimes.com | Edited by:Anubha Rohatgi
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
This image shows the disc around the young AB Aurigae star, where ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) has spotted signs of planet 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. (Photo Credit: ESO/Boccaletti et al.)

Scientists have captured images of what could the first direct evidence of a planet being born around a young star.

The images, taken by the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (ESO’s VLT), show a dense disc of dust and gas around a young star AB Aurigae in which astronomers have spotted a prominent spiral structure with a ‘twist’ that marks the planetary maternity ward or the site where a planet may be forming.

“Thousands of exoplanets have been identified so far, but little is known about how they form,” said Anthony Boccaletti, the lead researcher who led the study from the Observatoie de Paris, PSL, University, France.

An exoplanet is a planet orbiting a star outside our solar system. While more than 4,000 exoplanets have been, according to report in cbc.ca, it’s rare to see one so early on in its formation.

The star AB Aurigae around which the new planet is forming is located 520 light years away from earth in the constellation of Auriga or the Charioteer, according to an article on the European Southern Observatory website. A light year is the distance light travels in a year which is 5.9 trillion miles or 9.5 trillion km.

“We need to observe very young systems to really capture the moment when planets form,” Boccaletti was quoted as saying in the European Southern Observatory article.

Astronomers know planets are born in dusty discs surrounding young stars such as AB Aurigae as cold gas and dust clump together. However, till now they had been unable to take sufficiently sharp and deep images of these young discs to find the ‘twist’ that marks the spot where a baby planet may be coming to existence .

The new observations with ESO’s VLT, published in Astronomy & Astrophysics journal, provide crucial clues to help scientists better understand this process.

Scientists believe the bright yellow ‘twist’ region captured by the ESO’s VLT is the site where a planet may be forming and it lies at about the same distance from the AB Aurigae star as Neptune does from the sun.

The ESO is constructing a 39-metre Extremely Large Telescope now and Bottacelli says the instrument will allow astronomers to get even more detailed views of the planets in the making.

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