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Planet formation caught in the act

24 Aug 2018, 10:33 UTC
Planet formation caught in the act
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A new study of the young star PDS 70 suggests a planet may have cleared the gap in its surrounding disk as well. Image credit: The Graduate University for Advanced Studies/NAOJ
The gas giant PDS 70b made headlines in July 2018 as the first newly forming planet to ever be directly imaged. Now a team of scientists has gone a step further: they’ve captured evidence that this planet is actively accreting material, and they’ve measured the rate at which it’s growing.
In the recent era of high-resolution observations, indirect evidence of planet formation abounds. In particular, astronomers have captured a number of spectacular images of gapped disks surrounding young stars — disks in which astronomers think the first planets of those systems are being born. According to models, planets will grow as they accrete matter from the surrounding protostellar disk, simultaneously clearing a gap in the disk as they orbit.
In spite of the accumulation of indirect evidence, direct evidence was long lacking — until recently. The young (10 million years old) dwarf star PDS 70, located just 370 light-years from Earth, is surrounded by a disk with a distinctive gap. And in the month prior to the discovery, astronomers ...

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