(ORDO NEWS) — Astronomers agree that planets are born in protoplanetary disks rings of dust and gas that surround young, newborn stars.
Although hundreds of such disks have been discovered throughout the universe, observations of the actual birth and formation of planets under these conditions have proven difficult.
Astronomers from the Harvard Center for Astrophysics and the Smithsonian have developed a new way to detect these elusive newborn planets. The results of the study are published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.
“Direct detection of young planets is very difficult and has only been successful in one or two cases so far,” said Feng Long, a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Astrophysics and leader of the study. “The planets are too dim for us to see because they are hidden in layers of gas and dust.”
For her research, Long decided to re-examine the protoplanetary disk known as LkCa 15. The disk lies 518 light-years away in the constellation of Taurus.
Scientists have previously reported evidence of planetary formation in a disk using observations from the ALMA observatory.
Long dug deep into the 2019 ALMA data and found two features that had not previously been identified.
About 42 astronomical units from the star, Long found a dust ring with two separate bright clumps orbiting inside it. The clots are in the form of a small lump and an arc.
They are 120 degrees apart when viewed from the side of the star. Computer simulations have shown that their size and location are indicative of the presence of a planet.
These clumps point to positions in space known as the L4 and L5 Lagrange points, where two bodies in motion, such as a star and a planet orbiting it, create enhanced regions of attraction around them where matter can accumulate.
The arc and bunch discovered by astronomers are located at the Lagrange points L4 and L5. Between them at the top of an equilateral triangle is a planet, which caused the accumulation of dust at points L4 and L5.
The results of the analysis show that the planet is about the same size as Neptune or Saturn and is between one and three million years old.
Direct imaging of the newborn planet may not be possible due to technological limitations, but Long believes that further ALMA observations of LkCa 15 could provide further evidence supporting the planet’s discovery.
Contact us: firstname.lastname@example.org