A giant swirling burl of gaseous planet material has been discovered surrounding a young star named Ab Aurigae. At just 520 light-years away, it could be our first direct look at a planet in its formative stages.
Within the disk of dust and gas lies a twisted, S-shaped knot that infrared telescopic images show "... the precise spot where a new planet must be forming," according to astrophysicist Emannual Di Folco of the University of Bordeaux in France.
In 2017, the mysterious spiral pattern was seen within the cloud of cosmic material via the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA). Now we believe that the spiral is similar to that of a drain except instead of a sinkhole, the dust and gas are forming into a solid mass. All thanks to the help of our Extremely Large Telescope (ELT).
Yes, that's seriously what it's called.
If a baby planet truly is forming as a violent dust nugget, it would be as far as Neptune is from our sun, meaning about 4.5 billion kilometres out yonder.
Here is the gander we got at the potential baby planet.
Credit: ESO/Boccaletti ET AL.
The image on the right is shown from a greater zoom than the left. It shows the innermost circle of the gaseous disc and the yellow twisting parts where the planet is apparently forming within the white circle.
The distance between Neptune and the sun is the larger blue circle for scale. Using this, we can see the distance from the spawning exoplanet to the absolute centre of the twist (star AB Aurigae) is about 4.5 billion kilometres from its sun, just like Neptune.
To get a better understanding, the formation inside the large swirl of gas would look like this to us.
"We need to observe very young systems to really capture the moment when the planets form, " said lead author Anthony Boccaletti from the Observatoire de Paris. "Thousands of exoplanets have been identified so far, but very little is known about how they form.
ALMA did good by seeing the inner spiral arm of the twist, but thanks to the ELT we can grasp the more intricate details of how the infant planet is forming.
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