Hubble telescope shows 'gas giant' planet forming in unexpected way

A study using photographic data from the Hubble Space Telescope shows there's more than one way that a Jovian planet can be created. File Photo by NASA/UPI | <a href="/News_Photos/lp/ca059ad1116142a066ad9644d431cc86/" target="_blank">License Photo</a>
A study using photographic data from the Hubble Space Telescope shows there's more than one way that a Jovian planet can be created. File Photo by NASA/UPI | License Photo

April 4 (UPI) -- NASA announced Monday that its Hubble Space Telescope has obtained photographic evidence that some "gas giant" plants such as Jupiter are formed in a way contrary to the dominant theory.

The images of a newly forming Jovian planet near the young star AB Aurigae in the Auriga constellation, about 531 light years from the Sun, indicate it is developing through a process called "disk instability" rather than through the standard theory of "core accretion," NASA said.


The planet AB Aurigae b, probably about nine times more massive than Jupiter, is forming in an "intense and violent process" so far away from its sun that it's unlikely core accretion is accounting for its birth, according to a paper on the discovery published Monday in the journal Nature Astronomy.

The planet, found embedded in a protoplanetary disk of dust and gas, shows a distinct spiral structure while swirling around AB Aurigae, a star estimated to be around 2 million years old -- about the same age of our solar system when planet formation got underway.

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The data for the study was compiled from two Hubble instruments -- the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph and the Near Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrograph -- and was then compared with data from Japan's 8.2-meter Subaru Telescope at the summit of Mauna Kea in Hawaii.


It supports theories that there's more than one way to form a Jovian planet, according to Thayne Currie of the Subaru Telescope and Eureka Scientific, lead researcher on the study.

"Nature is clever; it can produce planets in a range of different ways," he told NASA in a release.

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The finding indicates that the violent, "top-down" process of disk instability as opposed to the gradual, "bottom-up" approach of core accretion may be more common than first thought in the creation of gas-giant planets.

With core accretion, planets embedded in the protoplanetary disk slowly grow as objects ranging in size from dust grains to boulders collide and stick together as they orbit a star.

But with disk instability, gravity causes the massive disk the rapidly break up into one or more planet-mass fragments.

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25th anniversary of NASA's Hubble

This June 9, 2005 NASA false-color picture shows the supernova remnant of Cassiopeia A. This image is made up of images taken by NASA's, Spitzer Space Telescope, Hubble Space Telescope and the Chandra X-ray Observatory. UPI/NASA | License Photo

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