A team of astronomers from Switzerland has discovered a young gas giant in its formation stage. The planet is still in its star's accretion disk. The discovery, made with the ESO's Very Large Telescope, will give scientists a first glimpse of the formation of a new planet.
The gas planet orbits a star called HD 100546, located 335 light years from Earth. Scientists say the emerging protoplanet is likely similar to Jupiter.
Since the open planet is located at the outer edge of the accretion disk, the possibility remains that it is an older planet that migrated from the inner part of the star system. Nevertheless, the chances that an already formed planet has entered an orbit that perfectly coincides with the plane of the accretion disk is very small.
"Of course, we cannot completely rule out such a scenario, " lead researcher Sasha Kuanz said in a press release on the discovery, "but it is much less likely than our assumption that we are seeing a new planet being born."
Quanz added that the star HD 100546 is relatively young, so the planet is still surrounded by a powerful cloud of gas, dust and debris.
This discovery provides scientists with a unique opportunity to observe the evolution of the gas giant in real time.
“We will be able to see and study with our own eyes the processes that occur during the formation of a gas giant without relying on computer models, ” says Quanz. "We now have a kind of 'laboratory' that provides us with empirical data in real time."