Two planets spotted in their early formation in a breakthrough observational study published in the Nature journal.
For centuries astronomers have been observing planets that are already formed. Even with modern advanced technology, the main targets of studies are planets like the ones in our solar system that have already reached maturity and are in stable conditions. Yet now, two planets spotted in their early formation offer scientists an exciting opportunity to glance deeper in the process of planet formation and gather further clues as to the processes driving the birth of new planets.
The two, possibly three planets have been spotted around a young star, similar to our Sun and located 430 light-years from our home planet. The astronomers observed two protoplanets, yet believe a third one is in the making as well.
“We are unambiguously witnessing planet formation”,
wrote the astronomers team in their paper.
With 1,900 planets observed so far around distant stars, witnessing two planets growing up is a a unique and exciting moment. Mature planets are easily distinguishable when they transit their stars and blocking their light. Yet, the same discovery method could prove problematic for distant stars and distant protoplanets.
To counter these difficulties, University of Arizona’s Stephanie Sallum built on 2011 data indicating that a protoplanet may be located in the vicinity of a merely 2 million years old star called LkCa 15. To get to the root of the mystery, Sallum and her team directed the Large Binocular Telescope towards the young star.
Using non-redundant masking (NRM), a technique enabling scientists to pick up high-resolution images of a deep space region, the research team found that two bodies were orbiting LkCa 15. Now known as LkCa 15b and LkCa 15c, the two planets were observed to be in their early formation phases. With a host star so young, one of the protoplanets emits 1,000 times less light than LkCa 15.
Interestingly, LkCa 15b completes an orbit around its host star more rapidly than the other protoplanet due to the shorter distance from Lkca 15. The distance between LkCa 15b and the young star is 15 times that between Earth and the Sun. LkCa 15c is located even further from the host star.
Using the same technique – NRM, the research team discovered another planet in its early formation. However, the signal picked up was too faint for any conclusive observations.
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