Space: these telescopes discover a (very large) baby planet

SPACE – A (very large) baby in its mother’s womb. This is how you present the discovery of a new exoplanet, called AB Aurigae b, and located outside our solar system. The latter, very young, was noticed at a remarkably early stage of formation.

The results of this discovery were published in the journal . on Monday, April 4. natural astronomy Lead author of the study, astrophysicist Thayne Currie of the Subaru Telescope and Nasa-Ames Research Center explains for the guard that this is the “earliest stage of formation ever observed for a gas giant”.

An exoplanet fetus

A juggernaut in the making, this planetary fetus is already a beautiful baby, with a mass nine times that of Jupiter. But that’s not the most surprising thing. Indeed, observers believe that AB Aurigae b does not form as planets usually do, orbiting particularly far from its young host star. This discovery thus questions the current understanding of planet formation.

The researchers used the Subaru telescope, located near the top of an inactive Hawaiian volcano, and the space telescope Hubble, to locate this new exoplanet. It is estimated to be 508 light-years from Earth, orbiting the star AB Aurigae (which had a fleeting moment of glory when its image appeared in a scene from the movie Don’t Look Up).

Although in an embryonic stage, this protoplanet (planet in the making) is destined to become a gas giant. Exactly, it is currently evolving in a huge disk of gas and dust that carries matter and forms the placenta of this embryonic planet. this group of planetsof which Jupiter and Saturn are a part, consists mainly of hydrogen and helium with swirling gases surrounding a smaller solid core.

With this discovery, AB Aurigae b joins the approximately 5,000 planets identified and located outside our solar system. However, she stands out as one of the greats. This protoplanet is indeed approaching maximum size to be classified as a planet rather than a brown dwarf, an intermediate body between a planet and a star.

Another peculiarity noted by astrophysicists is that AB Aurigae b is unusually distant from the star it orbits. Indeed, almost all known exoplanets are located in track around a sun, at a distance not exceeding a specified radius. This distance can be visualized as the distance from our sun to its outermost planet, Neptune. The catch is that the planet orbits three times further than Neptune from our sun.

“There is more than one way to cook an egg”

The birth of this protoplanet seems to follow a different process than the standard model of planet formation. “Conventional thinking is that most, if not all, planets are formed by accretion (growth by adding matter) editor’s note) slow flow of solids over a rocky core,” explains the astronomer and co-author of the study Olivier Guyon.

The researcher also specifies that “gas giants pass through this phase before the solid core is massive enough to grow gas.” In this scenario, the protoplanets gradually grow out of solid objects the size of dust or rock and, if this core is several times the mass of the soilthen they start accumulating gas.

Therefore, “This discovery questions our understanding of planet formation,” said Olivier Guyon in the study. The researchers then hypothesized that AB Aurigae b is formed according to a scenario where the orbit around the star cools and gravity causes it to break up into one or more massive clusters that turn into planets.

“There is more than one way to boil an egg” as stated in the guard Thayne Currie, adding that “there is apparently more than one way to form a Jupiter-like planet.”

While this new discovery challenges current theories, it improves human understanding of the universe. After all, as Olivier Guyon puts it: “The formation of planets is very complex and messy, and many surprises await us.”

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