Candidate protoplanet spotted inside its stellar womb
“Astronomers using ESO’s Very Large Telescope have obtained what is likely the first direct observation of a forming planet still embedded in a thick disc of gas and dust. If confirmed, this discovery will greatly improve our understanding of how planets form and allow astronomers to test the current theories against an observable target.“
An international team led by Sascha Quanz (ETH Zurich, Switzerland) has studied the disc of gas and dust that surrounds the young star HD 100546, a relatively nearby neighbour located 335 light-years from Earth. They were surprised to find what seems to be a planet in the process of being formed, still embedded in the disc of material around the young star. The candidate planet would be a gas giant similar to Jupiter.
‘So far, planet formation has mostly been a topic tackled by computer simulations,’ says Sascha Quanz. ‘If our discovery is indeed a forming planet, then for the first time scientists will be able to study the planet formation process and the interaction of a forming planet and its natal environment empirically at a very early stage.’
HD 100546 is a well-studied object, and it has already been suggested that a giant planet orbits about six times further from the star than the Earth is from the Sun. The newly found planet candidate is located in the outer regions of the system, about ten times further out.
The planet candidate around HD 100546 was detected as a faint blob located in the circumstellar disc revealed thanks to the NACO adaptive optics instrument on ESO’s VLT, combined with pioneering data analysis techniques. The observations were made using a special coronagraph in NACO, which operates at near-infrared wavelengths and suppresses the brilliant light coming from the star at the location of the protoplanet candidate.”
Sascha P. Quanz
Tel: +41 (0) 44 63 32830
Julien H. Girard
Tel: +56 2 2463 5342
ESO, Public Information Officer
Garching bei München, Germany
Tel: +49 89 3200 6655
Cell: +49 151 1537 3591
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