Telescope sees distant giant planet form

Feb. 28, 2013 at 7:30 PM
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GARCHING, Germany, Feb. 28 (UPI) -- Astronomers in Chile say they have obtained what is likely the first direct observation of a forming planet still embedded in a thick disc of gas and dust.

An international team using the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope in Paranal has studied the disc of gas and dust that surrounds the young star HD 100546, a relatively nearby neighbor located 335 light-years from Earth.

The discovered what seems to be a planet in the process of being formed, still embedded in the disc of material around the young star, a release from ESO headquarters in Germany reported Thursday.

The candidate planet would be a gas giant similar to Jupiter, the astronomers said.

"So far, planet formation has mostly been a topic tackled by computer simulations," team leader Sascha Quanz of ETH Zurich, Switzerland, said. "If our discovery is indeed a forming planet, then for the first time scientists will be able to study the planet formation process and the interaction of a forming planet and its natal environment empirically at a very early stage."

The planet candidate around HD 100546 was detected as a faint blob located in the circumstellar disc revealed by the optics of the Very Large Telescope and confirmed with data analysis techniques, the astronomers said.

"Exoplanet research is one of the most exciting new frontiers in astronomy, and direct imaging of planets is still a new field, greatly benefiting from recent improvements in instruments and data analysis methods," team member Adam Amara of ETH Zurich said.

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