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Astronomers spot giant planet in formative stage

Last Updated: Friday, March 1, 2013 - 12:40

Washington: Astronomers have spotted what could be a giant planet in the formative stage, still embedded in a thick disc of gas and dust, with the help of European Southern Observatory (ESO) very large telescope (VLT).

A team led by Sascha Quanz at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, (ETH-Zurich), has studied the disc of gas and dust that surrounds the young star HD 100546, a relatively nearby neighbour located 335 light-years from Earth.

The prospective planet could be a gas giant similar to Jupiter.

"So far, planet formation has mostly been a topic tackled by computer simulations," said Quanz.

"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."

HD 100546 is a well-studied object, and it has already been suggested that a giant planet orbits about six times further from the star than the Earth is from the Sun, the Astrophysical Journal Letters reports.

The planet candidate around HD 100546 was detected as a faint blob located in the circumstellar disc revealed thanks to the adaptive optics instrument on ESO`s VLT, combined with pioneering data analysis techniques, according to an ETH-Zurich statement.

According to current theory, giant planets grow by capturing some of the gas and dust that remains after the formation of a star.

Adam Amara, research team member, 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."


First Published: Friday, March 1, 2013 - 12:40

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