ESO telescope captures the birth of an exoplanet

Hyperaxion May 21, 2020

Astronomers from the European Southern Observatory (ESO) have spotted the planet near the star AB Aurigae, located in the constellation of Auriga.

Observations with the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (ESO’s VLT), in Chile, reveal evidence of the birth of a planet in the constellation Auriga (The Charioteer). The discovery is the result of research led by astronomers from the European Organisation for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere (ESO), published on Wednesday (20) in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

ESO telescope captures the birth of an exoplanet
The disc around the AB Aurigae star, where the ESO’s Very Large Telescope has spotted signs of planet birth. (Credit: ESO/Boccaletti).

Around a young star in the system, AB Aurigae, is a dense disk of dust and gas, about 520 light-years from Earth. It is in this region that astronomers have spotted a prominent spiral structure with a “twist” – and it is there that the new planet may be forming.

“Thousands of exoplanets have been identified so far, but little is known about how they form,” said Anthony Boccaletti, the study’s leader, in a statement. “We need to observe very young systems to really capture the moment when planets form.”

The image on the right is an enlarged version of the area indicated by a red square in the image on the left. It shows the inner region of the disk, including the bright yellow twist (circled in white) that scientists believe is where a planet is forming.
The image on the right is an enlarged version of the area indicated by a red square in the image on the left. It shows the inner region of the disk, including the bright yellow twist (circled in white) that scientists believe is where a planet is forming. (Credit: ESO/Boccaletti).

According to the scientists, spirals like the one observed by the team signal the presence of “baby” planets, which expel the gas present in the region, creating disturbances in the disk in the shape of a wave. “Somewhat like the wake of a boat on a lake,” exemplified Emmanuel Di Folco, co-author of the research.

As the planet revolves around its star, this wave is shaped into a spiral. The bright yellow “twist” region near the center of AB Aurigae’s new image – whose distance from the star is about the same between Neptune and the Sun – is one of those areas of disturbance in which the planet would be forming.

The twist corresponds to the connection of two spirals: one that is rotating into the planet’s orbit and the other that is expanding outward – and where they meet, the planet is being formed. “The twist is expected from some theoretical models of planet formation,” explained Anne Dutrey, co-author of the article. “They allow gas and dust from the disc to accrete onto the forming planet and make it grow.”

This graph shows the location of the AB Aurigae system in the constellation of Auriga.
This graph shows the location of the AB Aurigae system in the constellation of Auriga. (Credit: ESO, IAU and Sky & Telescope).

Related topics:

ESO exoplanets Galaxies VLT

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