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A spectacular image of a kinky spiral points toward a baby planet forming

20 May 2020, 13:00 UTC
A spectacular image of a kinky spiral points toward a baby planet forming
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A baby planet caught in the act of formation may have been spotted around a nearby star in an observation that's a first of its kind.

The star is called AB Aurigae, and it's about 530 light years away in the constellation of Auriga, the charioteer. The star is quite young, probably about 6 million years old, and is still surrounded by an extensive amount of gas and dust.

We've known about this material for decades, forming a disk around the star. We also know planets form in disks like that, but getting images close enough in to the star is difficult. AB Aur is about twice the mass of the Sun and more luminous, and although it's not quite bright enough to see with the naked eye, it appears pretty bright in a telescope. The disk is lost in the glare.

Over time images got better, and spiral patterns in the disk started showing up. I worked on some Hubble data back in 1999 that showed them pretty well, in fact. Still, this was too far from the star to say anything meaningful about any possible planets.

Then ALMA took a look at very long wavelengths of light, and ...

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