For the first time ever, gas has been discovered in a circumplanetary disk

(ORDO NEWS) — Using the Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array (ALMA) and partners at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), scientists have detected gas in a circumplanetary disk for the first time.

What’s more, the detection also suggests the presence of a very young exoplanet. The results of the study are published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Circumplanetary disks are accumulations of gas, dust, and debris around young planets. Moons and other small rocky objects emerge from these disks. They also control the growth of young giant planets.

Studying these disks in their early stages may provide answers to questions related to the formation of our solar system, including Jupiter’s Galilean satellites, which scientists believe formed in Jupiter’s circumplanetary disk about 4.5 billion years ago.

While studying AS 209, a young star located about 395 light-years from Earth in the constellation Ophiuchus, scientists noticed a clump of emitted light in the empty space among the gas surrounding the star.

This, in turn, led to the discovery of a circumplanetary disk surrounding a planet with a mass commensurate with Jupiter.

Scientists are very interested in this system, both because of the distance of the planet from its star, and because of the age of the star itself.

The exoplanet is located more than 200 astronomical units (18.59 billion miles) away from its star, calling into question current theories of planet formation. If the estimated age of the star is only 1.6 million years, then this exoplanet could be one of the youngest ever discovered.

Of course, further research is needed, and scientists hope that upcoming observations with the James Webb Space Telescope will confirm the presence of the planet.

“The best way to study planet formation is to observe planets as they form. We live in a very exciting time when such things are made possible by powerful telescopes like ALMA and JWST,” said Ceyhan Bae, professor of astronomy at the University of Florida and lead author of the paper.

Scientists have long suspected the presence of circumplanetary disks in exoplanets, but until recently they could not prove it. In 2019, ALMA scientists first discovered a circumplanetary disk while observing the young exoplanet PDS 70c and confirmed the find in 2021.

In the future, this disk may become a satellite of the planet. A new discovery of gas in AS 209’s circumplanetary disk could expand our understanding of the development of planetary atmospheres and moon formation processes.

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