WEATHER AUTHORITY : Heat Advisory View Alerts

Three 'baby' planets found forming around newborn star

In the constellation of Sagittarius, three infant planets have been found orbiting a young star 330 light-years from ...

Posted: Jun 14, 2018 2:54 PM

In the constellation of Sagittarius, three infant planets have been found orbiting a young star 330 light-years from Earth. These are the first planets to be found using the powerful ALMA telescope in Chile, which is searching for our cosmic origins. The discovery was made by two independent teams of astronomers.

But these aren't exoplanets, which are planets found outside of our solar system. These are protoplanets -- large bodies of matter orbiting a star that are still "cooking" in order to become a planet.

New planets have been found around a young star in our galaxy

This is the first time the ALMA telescope has found planets

The discovery is detailed in two different studies published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters on Wednesday.

These happen to be about the same mass as Jupiter, if not a little larger. The star they orbit, HD 163296, is four million years old. That may not sound young, but it's a thousandth of the age of our sun. That makes this star a newborn.

"Finding planets at this stage in their life is extremely hard and essentially boils down to finding enough evidence to show that only a planet could cause what we see," Richard Teague, principal author of one of the studies and an astronomer at the University of Michigan, said in an email. "This is because the planets are still surrounded by gas and dust which is flowing on to them to form their atmospheres and trying to pierce through this surrounding material is nigh on impossible."

That's why the traditional methods that are used to find exoplanets, like looking for dips in starlight as planets pass in front of their star, don't work for planets that are still developing. Before, astronomers tried to look for structure, like spirals or rings, in the dust to signify a planet's presence. But that leaned heavily on assumptions that could be misleading. Rings and spirals don't necessarily need to be part of a planet to form.

So they had to develop a new planet-finding strategy in order to detect these protoplanets. It's an indirect way of looking for how the planet affects its environment, rather than looking for the planet itself.

The researchers looked at the protoplanetary disk, which is the "planet factory" full of gas and dust around young stars. Their new method looked at unusual patterns of gas flowing in the disk to find the telltale signs of planets. The disturbances in the gas were indeed planet-sized. The researchers compared it to the way eddies form around a rock in a river.

"By having two independent teams simultaneously arrive at the same conclusions really lends weight to the result," Teague said. "There's definitely going to be a lot of refining going on to improve the methods but these two results show that it's really something we should be investing time in."

Teague and his colleagues were surprised by how well the observations matched their predictions.

Surprisingly, we don't really know much about how planets form in the first place. And since detecting protoplanets is a new frontier for science, this new method and the ALMA telescope's capabilities could help astronomers find the youngest planets in our galaxy. This could unveil the secrets of planet formation.

"We do not really know the details of how we go from small grains of dust to massive gas giants," Teague said. "If we're able to catch them at their birth we can see where they form in the disk. This will allow us to better understand how many planets we would expect in a typical system. We can also examine what the chemical and molecular content of the gas is like around the protoplanet and build a picture of what atmospheres are like on very young planets. These results will provide essential evidence for theoreticians trying to fill in the gaps about how planets grow."

Teague and his colleagues want to use this evidence to optimize set-ups on other telescopes and find other planets that are forming. And of course use ALMA to make more detections.

"This probably means we are just at the beginning of such discoveries with ALMA," Christophe Pinte, lead author of the second paper and professor in Monash University's school of physics and astronomy, said in an email. "Only a few disks have been observed with the required observational settings so far, there are probably many more discoveries to come in the next few years. Follow-up studies are aiming to confirm these [planet] detections with different methods, for instance to try to image the planets with near-infrared telescopes."

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 37542

Reported Deaths: 1272
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds310258
DeSoto205020
Madison156039
Jones125450
Harrison123116
Rankin117320
Forrest107143
Neshoba105077
Lauderdale97581
Scott83715
Jackson80919
Washington78214
Copiah69016
Leake65120
Lee64023
Grenada63412
Oktibbeha63228
Lamar6127
Warren61222
Holmes60842
Wayne57519
Yazoo5747
Leflore56956
Lowndes55317
Lincoln54136
Pike52821
Lafayette5274
Sunflower5269
Monroe47239
Panola4696
Covington4665
Simpson4613
Bolivar42818
Tate41813
Attala39024
Pontotoc3906
Adams38820
Newton37910
Marion35612
Claiborne31811
Pearl River31732
Marshall3074
Winston30513
Chickasaw30419
Jasper2956
Walthall2899
Noxubee2819
Clay26811
Smith26112
Union25811
Coahoma2376
Clarke23425
Lawrence2182
Yalobusha2089
Tallahatchie2064
Montgomery1903
Carroll18911
Kemper18414
Humphreys17810
Calhoun1765
Hancock15813
Itawamba1528
Tippah15111
Jefferson1353
Webster13511
George1313
Jefferson Davis1294
Prentiss1294
Tunica1273
Amite1183
Greene11810
Alcorn1132
Tishomingo1111
Quitman1041
Wilkinson1049
Perry954
Stone802
Choctaw764
Franklin582
Sharkey520
Benton490
Issaquena111
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 58225

Reported Deaths: 1183
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson7186174
Mobile5206147
Montgomery4690114
Tuscaloosa277754
Madison27299
Marshall209012
Shelby182026
Lee171637
Morgan14296
Baldwin139611
Walker112635
DeKalb11187
Etowah110414
Elmore110124
Dallas102810
Franklin96016
Unassigned81428
Russell7340
Autauga73317
Chambers69332
Limestone6914
Cullman6896
Houston6587
Butler65631
St. Clair6463
Tallapoosa64669
Lauderdale6337
Colbert5826
Calhoun5776
Escambia5228
Lowndes49723
Pike4915
Jackson4722
Coffee4534
Covington43913
Talladega4337
Dale4142
Barbour4133
Bullock38010
Hale36723
Marengo36411
Chilton3563
Blount3441
Marion33214
Clarke3296
Wilcox3258
Winston3157
Sumter30413
Pickens2806
Randolph27910
Monroe2773
Perry2632
Conecuh2478
Bibb2322
Macon2279
Choctaw22112
Greene2019
Henry1613
Washington1588
Lawrence1510
Crenshaw1403
Cherokee1357
Geneva1060
Lamar951
Clay922
Fayette902
Coosa691
Cleburne531
Out of AL00
Tupelo
Few Clouds
93° wxIcon
Hi: 94° Lo: 76°
Feels Like: 104°
Columbus
Few Clouds
97° wxIcon
Hi: 94° Lo: 73°
Feels Like: 115°
Oxford
Few Clouds
90° wxIcon
Hi: 92° Lo: 74°
Feels Like: 102°
Starkville
Scattered Clouds
90° wxIcon
Hi: 91° Lo: 71°
Feels Like: 100°
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather