Last updated June 15, 2018 at 4:39 pm
Missing link in knowledge of planet formation.
In a world first, astrophysicists at Monash University have spotted a new planet inside a protoplanetary disc of space dust and gas, giving new insights into the way planets form.
“Discs of gas and dust surrounding young stars are the birthplace of planets,” co-lead author Dr Christophe Pinte said. “However, direct detection of protoplanets forming within discs has proved elusive to date.
The observation was made using the ALMA telescope in Chile and is the subject of a study published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters
The protoplanetary disc surrounds the young star HD 163296.
The baby planet is described in the paper as “a large, localised deviation from Keplerian velocity” – essentially a kink in the dust and gas as it flows around the planet. The authors say the pattern is consistent with the effect of a two-Jupiter mass planet orbiting at a radius approximately 260 times the distance between the Earth and the Sun.
“This is the first ‘baby planet’ to be discovered and it is still orbiting in the swirling disc of material that it was born in,” said Pinte’s fellow lead author, Associate Professor Daniel Price.
“The planet orbits just outside the dust rings seen around the star ‘HD163296’at a distance of 360 light years.”
Price said recent pictures of the disc around HD163296 showed a spectacular series of ‘rings’ that were thought to be carved by baby planets.
“But until now we had no direct evidence for the planets themselves,” he said.