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

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

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

An exoplanet fetus

This planetary fetus, which is on its way, is already a beautiful baby that has a mass nine times larger than Jupiter’s. But that’s not the most surprising thing. In fact, observers believe that AB Aurigae b does not form as planets do, and orbits particularly far from its young host star. This discovery thus questions the current understanding of the formation of planets.

Scientists used the Subaru telescope near the top of an inactive Hawaiian volcano and the Hubble Space Telescope to spot this new exoplanet. It is estimated to be 508 light-years from Earth, orbiting the star AB Aurigae (who enjoyed a fleeting moment of glory when the image of it appeared in a scene from the movie Don’t Look Up).

Although at an embryonic stage, this protoplanet (the planet in the process of formation) is destined to become a gas giant. Exactly, it is currently evolving within a huge disk of gas and dust which carries matter and forms the placenta on this embryonic planet. This group of planets, which includes Jupiter and Saturn, consists mostly of hydrogen and helium with swirling gases surrounding a less 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 she is one of the greats. In fact, this protoplanet is approaching the maximum size to be classified as a planet instead of a brown dwarf, an intermediate body between a planet and a star.

Another peculiarity noticed by astrophysicists, AB Aurigae b is unusually distant from the star as it orbits. In fact, almost all known exoplanets are in orbit around a sun, at a distance that does not exceed a certain 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 longer than Neptune from our sun.

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

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

The researcher also specifies that “the gas giants pass through this phase before the solid core is massive enough to start accumulating gas”. In this scenario, the protoplanets gradually grow from solid objects the size of dust or rocks, and if this nucleus reaches several times the Earth’s mass, they begin to accumulate gas.

Therefore, “This discovery calls into question our understanding of the formation of planets,” says Olivier Guyon in the study. The researchers then hypothesized that AB Aurigae b was formed under a scenario in which the orbit around the star cooled and gravity caused it to fragment into one or more massive clusters, which were transformed into planets.

“There is more than one way to cook an egg”, as it says The Guardian Thayne Currie, adding that “apparently there can be more than one way to form a Jupiter-like planet.”

Although this new discovery challenges current theories, it improves man’s understanding of the universe. After all, as Olivier Guyon claims, “The formation of planets is very complex and messy, and many surprises still await us.”

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