The European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope captured a stunning image of a planet being born around a young star located 520 light-years from Earth.
The birth took place in the constellation Auriga, which is Latin for The Charioteer.
“Thousands of exoplanets have been identified so far, but little is known about how they form,” Anthony Boccaletti, who led the study from the Observatoire de Paris, PSL University, France, said in a statement.
“We need to observe very young systems to really capture the moment when planets form,” says Boccaletti. However, up until now astronomers had been unable to take sufficiently sharp and deep images of these young discs to locate the “twist.”
In the image, the twist, seen in bright yellow, marks the spot where a planet may be forming. This twist lies at about the same distance from the AB Aurigae star as Neptune does from the sun.
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, somewhat like the wake of a boat on a lake,” Emmanuel Di Folco of the Astrophysics Laboratory of Bordeaux, France, who also participated in the study, explained in a press statement.
The scientists’ work was presented for publication in Astronomy & Astrophysics.
“We should be able to see directly and more precisely how the dynamics of the gas contributes to the formation of planets,” he said.