Key idea: Astronomers at the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian have developed a new way to detect these elusive newborn planets — and with it, “smoking gun” evidence of a small Neptune or Saturn-like planet lurking in a disk.
Original author and publication date: Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian – September 14, 2022
Futurizonte Editor’s Note: We can now detect baby planets. Soon, we should be able to modify those planets to our liking.
From the article:
Newswise — Cambridge, Mass. – Astronomers agree that planets are born in protoplanetary disks — rings of dust and gas that surround young, newborn stars. While hundreds of these disks have been spotted throughout the universe, observations of actual planetary birth and formation have proved difficult within these environments.
Now, astronomers at the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian have developed a new way to detect these elusive newborn planets — and with it, “smoking gun” evidence of a small Neptune or Saturn-like planet lurking in a disk. The results are described today in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.
“Directly detecting young planets is very challenging and has so far only been successful in one or two cases,” says Feng Long, a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Astrophysics who led the new study. “The planets are always too faint for us to see because they’re embedded in thick layers of gas and dust.”
Scientists instead must hunt for clues to infer a planet is developing beneath the dust.
“In the past few years, we’ve seen many structures pop up on disks that we think are caused by a planet’s presence, but it could be caused by something else, too” Long says. “We need new techniques to look at and support that a planet is there.”
For her study, Long decided to re-examine a protoplanetary disk known as LkCa 15. Located 518 light years away, the disk sits in the Taurus constellation on the sky. Scientists previously reported evidence for planet formation in the disk using observations with the ALMA Observatory.
Long dove into new high-resolution ALMA data on LkCa 15, obtained primarily in 2019, and discovered two faint features that had not previously been detected.
About 42 astronomical units out from the star — or 42 times the distance Earth is from the Sun — Long discovered a dusty ring with two separate and bright bunches of material orbiting within it. The material took the shape of a small clump and a larger arc, and were separated by 120 degrees.