These Stunning Yellow Swirls Could Be The First Evidence Of A New Planet Being Formed

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CCSS NAS-4
Astronomers believe they have finally witnessed the birth of a new planet (Credit: Boccaletti et al.)

Over the past two decades, powerful instruments, like the now-retired Kepler space telescope, have allowed astronomers to identify thousands of exoplanets. While the unique new worlds, which range from fiery gas giants to icy spheres, have helped increase astronomers' knowledge about the development of planets, the process of how they form has always been a mystery. Now, scientists may finally get some answers thanks to the stunning, first-ever images of a new exoplanet being "born" about 520 light years from Earth.

The initial hints that a new world may be developing came in 2018, from images captured by the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) — the world's largest radio telescope. They showed two spiraling arms of dust swirling close to a young star called AB Aurigae in the constellation Auriga. While Anthony Boccaletti from the Observatoire de Paris, PSL University in France believed the discs may be evidence of a new planetary system forming, the photos were not clear enough to confirm his suspicions.

The new planet is being formed 520 light years away from Earth in the constellation Auriga (Credit: Boccaletti et al)

To verify his hunch, in 2019 and 2020, Boccaletti and a team of researchers from France, Taiwan, the US, and Belgium used SPHERE, the adaptive optics system of the European Southern Observatory's (ESO) Very Large Telescope in Chile, to capture images of the area around the young AB Aurigae star.

The in-depth photos, which allowed the team to clearly identify the fainter light from small dust grains and emissions coming from the inner disc, confirmed the presence of the spiral arms ALMA had detected. Even more exciting was a bright yellow "twist" pattern in a cloud that lay approximately the same distance from the young star as Neptune is from our Sun. The scientists, who published their findings in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics on April 29, 2020, believe the spiral is clear evidence that a new planet is being "born" around AB Aurigae.

Images of the AB Aurigae system: The image on the right is a close-up of the central part of the disc shown in the left image. It shows the inner region of the disc including the bright yellow twist that marks the spot where a planet may be forming (Credit: ESO/Boccaletti et al.)

"The twist is expected from some theoretical models of planet formation," says co-author Anne Dutrey from the Astrophysics Laboratory of Bordeaux (LAB).. "It corresponds to the connection of two spirals — one winding inwards of the planet's orbit, the other expanding outwards — which join at the planet location. They allow gas and dust from the disc to accrete onto the forming planet and make it grow."

The astronomers plan to photograph the AB Aurigae system once again in 2024, when ESO's Extremely Large Telescope (ELT), which is currently under construction, is ready. They believe images obtained using the revolutionary ground-based telescope, touted as the "world's biggest eye on the sky," will allow for an even closer look at the exoplanet's formation and enable them to better understand the dynamics behind the process.

Resources: ESO.org, wikipedia.org

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243 Comments
  • fornitegamer0
    fornitegamer0Monday, September 21, 2020 at 9:39 am
    i hope its not another sun if it is i will melt like a posicle
    • whisky
      whiskyThursday, September 17, 2020 at 10:23 am
      Is that fire
      • whisky
        whiskyThursday, September 17, 2020 at 10:21 am
        OMG!!!
        • kitty13
          kitty13Monday, September 14, 2020 at 12:44 pm
          WOW!!!!!!!!! COOL!!!!!!👍
          • superdragon
            superdragonThursday, August 27, 2020 at 7:58 am
            That looks scary but it is still pretty cool
            • teachsdaughter
              teachsdaughterFriday, August 21, 2020 at 6:07 pm
              It is amazing we have technology to tell that. This could help the whole world.
              • foxwolflove
                foxwolfloveThursday, August 20, 2020 at 6:41 pm
                Wow!!!!
                • xotticghost235
                  xotticghost235Saturday, August 15, 2020 at 11:11 am
                  OMG A NEW PLANET THIS IS AWESOME😲
                  • adrijel
                    adrijelSaturday, August 15, 2020 at 11:09 am
                    WOW!!!!!!! THAT'S EPIC!!!!
                    • lilli_mae
                      lilli_maeFriday, August 14, 2020 at 8:32 am
                      That is very very VERY cool!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! It also looks pretty. :D