Is This a Baby Picture of a Giant Planet?


Mommy, where do baby planets come from? There’s no storks, birds, bees, or romantic dinners for two involved in the answer to that question — regardless of size, planets are all formed in pretty much the same way: through the aggregation of material within the disk of dust and gas surrounding a young star. While how long it actually takes and just what sort of planets are most likely to form where are still topics of discussion among astronomers, the birth process of a planet is fairly well understood.
And this may be the very first image of it actually happening.

Acquired by the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (VLT), the infrared image above (right) shows a portion of the disk of gas and dust around the star HD100546, located 335 light-years away in the constellation Musca. By physically blocking out the light from the star itself by means of an opaque screen — seen along the left side of the image — the light from the protoplanetary disk around HD 100546 can be seen, revealing a large bright clump that’s thought to be a planet in the process of formation.

If it is indeed a baby planet, it’s a big one — as large as, or perhaps even larger than, Jupiter.

Written By: Jason Major
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  1. The swirling matter can be seen going down the gravity wells which form naturally where concentrations of matter bunch together. This can be seen at a range of scales.

    This picture looks like a planetary accretion cloud/disk forming within the larger accretion disk of its star.

    The stars themselves form in clusters where shock-waves from supernova explosions, have pushed gas and dust into concentrations within galaxies, which then bunch into clouds and accretion disks under the force of their own gravity, in the area near the star, as concentrated areas form the star.

    This forms its planets, moons and rings of orbiting odds and ends. Clouds of matter in the outer areas where the star’s gravity is weak, remain in a sphere of less organised orbits. ( EG the Oort cloud.)

    On an even larger scale the larger galaxies, (which have formed from galaxy mergers), continue to draw in smaller satellite galaxies as they continue to grow in size.

  2. Looking at the blowup VLT IR image scale and it looks like 100AU, the Optical Hubble image would then be 7-800+AU (Am I right in thinking this?). The scale is breathtaking and it’s harder thinking that this would result in a planet ‘as large as, or perhaps even larger than, Jupiter.’

    One would expect something far far larger.

  3. In reply to #3 by veggiemanuk:

    One would expect something far far larger.

    If so, I wonder why they’re predicting a planet rather than a binary star. I guess the dust is comprised of lighter elements?

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