Outer Space: Telescopes discover a (very large) baby planet

SPACE – A (very large) baby in the womb. This is how they present the discovery of a new exoplanet called AB Aurigae b, located outside our solar system. The latter, very young, was discovered at a remarkably early stage of formation.

The results of this discovery were published in the Journal on Monday April 4th natural astronomy. The study’s lead author, astrophysicist Thayne Currie of the Subaru Telescope and Nasa-Ames Research Center, explains The guard that this is the “earliest formation stage ever observed for a gas giant”.

An exoplanet fetus

A tremendous juggernaut in the making, this planetary fetus is already a beautiful baby with a mass nine times that of Jupiter. But that’s not the most surprising thing. Indeed, observers believe that AB Aurigae b does not form like ordinary planets, but orbits particularly far from its young host star. This discovery thus challenges the current understanding of how planets form.

Researchers used the Subaru Telescope, located near the top of an inactive Hawaiian volcano, and the Hubble Space Telescope to discover this new exoplanet. It is estimated to be 508 light-years from Earth and orbits the star AB Aurigae (which enjoyed a fleeting moment of fame when its image appeared in a scene from the film Don’t Look Up).

Although this protoplanet (planet in the process of formation) is still in an embryonic stage, it is destined to become a gas giant. In fact, it is currently evolving within a vast disk of gas and dust that supports matter and is the placenta of this embryonic planet. This group of planets, which includes Jupiter and Saturn, is mostly composed of hydrogen and helium with swirling gases surrounding a smaller solid core.

With this discovery, AB Aurigae b joins the approximately 5,000 planets that have been identified and located outside our solar system. However, she stands out because she is one of the greats. In fact, this protoplanet is approaching the maximum size to be classified as a planet rather than a brown dwarf, an intermediate body between a planet and a star.

Another feature that has caught the eye of astrophysicists is AB Aurigae b, which is unusually distant from the star it orbits. In fact, almost all known exoplanets orbit a sun at a distance not exceeding a certain radius. This distance can be visualized as the distance from our sun to its outermost planet, Neptune. The catch is that the planet is three times farther from our sun than Neptune.

“There’s more than one way to boil an egg”

The birth of this protoplanet appears to follow a different process than the standard model of planet formation. “Conventional thinking is that most, if not all, planets are formed by accretion (growth by adding matter). publisher’s Note) slow of solids on a rocky core,” explains astronomer and co-author of the study Olivier Guyon.

The researcher also specifies that “gas giants go through this phase before the solid core is massive enough to start gas accretion”. In this scenario, the protoplanets gradually grow out of solid objects the size of dust or rock, and when this core reaches several times the mass of Earth, they start accumulating gas.

“This discovery therefore challenges our understanding of how planets form,” says Olivier Guyon in the study. The researchers then hypothesized that AB Aurigae b forms according to a scenario in which the orbit around the star cools and gravity causes it to fragment into one or more massive clusters that transform into planets.

“There’s more than one way to boil an egg,” as it says in The guard Thayne Currie, adding that “there appears to be more than one way to form a Jupiter-like planet.”

While this new discovery challenges current theories, it improves human understanding of the universe. Because, as Olivier Guyon puts it: “The formation of planets is very complex and chaotic, and many surprises await us.”

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