"AB Aurigae's Baby Planet" by Stuart Rankin / CC BY-NC 2.0

Baby exoplanet spotted growing around distant star

May 21, 2020

By Mike Wall

Planets’ origin stories apparently come with a twist.

The European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile has captured an image of a planet being born around the young star AB Aurigae, which lies 520 light-years from Earth in the constellation Auriga (The Charioteer).

Like previous AB Aurigae images taken by the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), this new photo shows spiral arms forming in the thick disk of dust and gas surrounding the star. These spirals are evidence of newly forming worlds, which churn up protoplanetary disks, scientists have said.

But the VLT view, which was obtained using an instrument called SPHERE (short for “Spectro-Polarimetric High-contrast Exoplanet Research”), adds something different and more detailed: a twist in those spiral arms. This twist likely pinpoints the spot where the exoplanet is taking shape, researchers report in a new study describing the observations.

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