When talking about telescopes like the Very Large Telescope (VLT), observation time is a critical resource that all astronomers respect. So when the VLT is tasked to look at one spot for an entire night, you know something exciting is happening.
The group of astronomers that put the request in was hoping to see something that has never been seen before: the birth of a new planet, and it’s only 355 light-years away.
This gas giant has similarities to Jupiter, and was first observed in 2013 and named HD 100546.
The planet orbits a young star. Surrounding the star is a circumstellar disk (a disk of gas and dust), and within the disk sits the planet. A planet such as this one begins with a dense area of gas that has drawn itself tightly together using gas particles’ gravity. Over time, the mass of gas pulls enough material toward itself that the matter coalesces into a gas planet, IFL Science wrote.
The birth of a giant planet?
The study, which was published in the Astrophysical Journal, said: “The best explanation for the observed phenomena is that a new planet is actually in the process of formation, embedded in the disk surrounding its parent star.”
The initial observations suggested that the new planet has a radius that is seven times larger than Jupiter. It has also been predicted that its temperature would be over 600o°C (10,832°F).
There may be another explanation for what scientists are seeing: The planet could be an older gas planet that formed further towards the centre of the circumstellar disk. If this is right, the only reason we’re seeing it now is because it’s been hurled outward, added IFL Science.
“It’s a scenario we still can’t rule out completely,” first author Sascha Quanz of ETH Zurich noted. “But it’s much less likely than our explanation, which suggests that what we’re seeing is the birth of a planet.”
This finding has excited astronomers with the thought of another planet located closer to this central star. It’s amazing to to think we may have another confirmed planet in the near future.