A Clemson astronomy and astrophysics professor is the leader of a team that recently made the rare discovery of an entirely new planet currently forming.
The infant planet is at least three times the size of Jupiter and is believed to orbit the star HD100546 about 335 light years from Earth, according to a release from the school Thursday. The team reported its findings in The Astrophysical Journal.
If the findings are confirmed, it will be one of the first times that scientists have been able to directly observe planet formation occurring. This particular planet is believed to be located inside the star’s “disk,” an enormous ring-like cloud of dust and gas that extends hundreds of millions of miles from the star’s center.
Associate Professor Sean Brittain said his team used a technique known as “spectro-astrometry,” which enables small changes in the position of the carbon monoxide emission to be measured. While looking at images of HD100546 over the past decade, Brittain noted a source of some excess carbon monoxide that appeared to be moving in the disk. He said the different positions and velocity are consistent with an object orbiting the star.
Brittain said this was the first forming planet ever discovered using the spectro-astrometry method. “It’s really exciting to be able to confirm something like this and have a result that’s fairly conclusive,” he told South Carolina Radio Network. in an interview.
Since HD100546 can only be seen from the southern hemisphere, the team analyzed the star using data gathered at the Gemini South Observatory in Chile. They confirmed their hypothesis 2013, realizing the object was likely a new gas giant whose gravity was attracting gas and matter from the star’s disk.
Brittain said the discovery could eventually help scientists learn more about how solar systems are created. The Sun was also once a disk system in its infancy, he said. “Now that we’ve pinpointed where the forming planet is, we can use other technology to study it in other ways,” he said. “And we can understand how you go from gas and dust around a star to something like Jupiter.”
He added that more images will be needed of the planet to learn if it has its own “circumplanetary disk” surrounding it. Scientists believe such disks eventually coalesce into moons, but have never been able to observe their existence in real life.