Three baby planets spotted forming around infant star

We Just Used an Innovative New Technique to Find 3 Newly Birthed Planets Near a Young Star

Image credit NRAO AUI NSF S. Dagnello

New work from an global team of astronomers including Carnegie's Jaehan Bae used archival radio telescope data to develop a new method for finding very young extrasolar planets.

Without planets, the gas surrounding the young star would move in a predictable motion called Keplerian rotation.

Astronomers studied the distribution disk of gaseous carbon monoxide (CO).

In the past, thanks to ALMA, the astronomers were able to detect large gaps within planet-forming disks, which they believed were the result of the creation of new planets.

Astronomers using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) have uncovered evidence that three infant planets are forming in the protoplanetary disk around HD 163296, a young star located approximately 398 light-years away in the constellation Sagittarius. This star is twice the size of the sun, but it's only 4 million years old (the sun is more than 4 billion).

"When a planet forms in a protoplanetary disk it can carve a gap and produce wakes in the disk. This entirely new approach could uncover some of the youngest planets in our galaxy, all thanks to the high-resolution images from ALMA", said Richard Teague, an astronomer at the University of MI and principal author on the other paper. The disturbances in the gas were indeed planet-sized.

"Measuring the flow of gas within a protoplanetary disk gives us much more certainty that planets are present around a young star".

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Researchers will continue applying this new method to other disks.

That's why the traditional methods that are used to find exoplanets, like looking for dips in starlight as planets pass in front of their star, don't work for planets that are still developing. Meanwhile, another team at the University of MI located two other planets located roughly 12 billion and 21 billion kilometers (7.4 billion and 13 billion miles) from the star. As planets are always surrounded with gas and dust which forms an atmosphere around them causing them hard to pinpoint in the vast galaxy.

Subtle changes in the wavelength of that light as it travelled through the gas allowed the scientists to figure out what was orbiting the star. Another group under the leadership of Pinto identified the planet at a distance of about 39 billion kilometers from its parent star. Researchers are hoping this technique, applied to other disks, will reveal more planets information and help us understand how gravity molds primordial clouds into planetary systems, including our own. The technique is particularly promising for pinpointing very young planets - the kind of observations that could provide invaluable insight into how our solar system and planet Earth formed. "We are now bringing ALMA front and center into the realm of planet detection", said coauthor Ted Bergin of the University of MI.

Due to extensive observations over the years, astronomers are beginning to learn how planets form around a star. The technique used by Pinte, which more directly measured the flow of the gas, is better suited to studying the outer portion of the disc.

[4] These correspond to 80, 140 and 260 times the distance from the Earth to the Sun.

The two studies were published online today (June 13) in the Astrophysical Journal Letters. "A Kinematic Detection of Two Unseen Jupiter Mass Embedded Protoplanets", by R. Teague et al.

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