ESO VLT observes signs of a planet being born around a distant star

Shane McGlaun - May 21, 2020, 7:35 am CDT
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ESO VLT observes signs of a planet being born around a distant star

Astronomers have observed what appears to be a planet being born using the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope or VLT. The signs of planet formation were observed around a young star called AB Aurigae that has a dense disc of dust and gas around it. Inside that disc, the astronomers spotted a prominent spiral structure with a twist that marks the site where the planet could be forming.

The reason this is so exciting for astronomers is that while thousands of exoplanets have been discovered, little is known about how they form. This observation could be the first direct evidence of a planet coming into existence. The team says that they need to observe very young systems to capture the moment when plants form.

However, until now, astronomers have been unable to take images that were sharp and deep enough to show the disc and find the “twist” that marks were a baby planet could be forming. AB Aurigae is a star located 520 light-years from the Earth in the constellation of Auriga.

Scientists say that 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. The very bright yellow twist in the region near the center, the image shows signs of planet formation. The formation lies at about the same distance from the star as Neptune from the sun.

The first hints at planet formation in the system were made a few years ago using the ALMA instrument. Clearer images were made years late using the SPHERE instrument on the ESO VLT in Chile. These SPHERE images are the deepest of the AB Aurigae system ever obtained.


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