Astronomers may be witnessing the birth of a planet 194 light-years from Earth. If so, this study could give us a glimpse of the early youth of our solar system.
Around the young star TW Hydrae, 194 light-years away, a large disk of dust swirls and, on the outer edge, matter clumps together. The sign of a planetary formation? It could indeed be a “seed” which, eventually, would give birth to a giant world the size of Neptune. The dust disk is therefore our best chance to study the process of planet formation. The details of the study are published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.
TW Hydrae is a very young star, less than ten million years old. By way of comparison, the Sun is 4.6 billion years old. We have seen its protoplanetary disk about 66 billion kilometers wide for a few years now. But things started to change a few years ago when astronomers began to notice a strange mass of material on the outside edge. The problem is that the dust and cold gases surrounding the young stars are difficult to observe in visible light. On the other hand, they emit radio waves. That’s where ALMA comes in.
Researchers have recently relied on the Atacama Large Millimeter / submillimeter Array in Chile, in order to precisely locate this concentration of matter around the star, a first in astronomy. On the other hand, scientists can not yet be confirmed that this is indeed a planetary embryo. The researchers note that it could be a “simple” gas vortex. In other words, we do not yet have a definitive answer as to the nature of this block of dust.
“Although we do not have a solid conclusion, locating precisely the location of this mass of matter is very valuable to us,” said Takashi Tsukagoshi of the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan. “We will obtain higher resolution ALMA images to reveal the distribution of the temperature in order to search for possible indications of a planet inside”.