Astronomers Are Watching a Planet Being Born Right Now


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By Neel V. Patel

A planet is born. Specifically, LkCa 15 b, about 450 light years away and growing into something resembling the solar system’s very own Jupiter. An international team of astronomers are currently watching the birthing process of this “protoplanet” happen, which they elaborate on in a new Nature paper published Wednesday. In studying the growth of the new exoplanet as it continues to collect matter, the research team is hoping to get a much better understanding of how our own planetary system — the solar system — formed and became what it is today.

Two co-authors of the paper independently stumbled on the planet while analyzing the star LkCa 15, and verifying the cause of hydrogen-alpha light glowing in ultra-hot hydrogen gas nearby

Besides keeping tabs on the exoplanet itself, the team of astronomers are particularly interested in watching how the planet’s LkCa 15 accretes a transition disk around it in which planets are able to form. A transition disk is a ring of dusk and rock orbiting a parent star. That matter tends to aggregate into clearings as it orbits a star, slowly building into the round giants we call planets.

A gas giant itself, like what LkCa 15 b is expected to become, grows out of a rocky or icy core. Hydrogen gas falls from the transition disk onto the core and begins to heat up and glow like a light bulb, emitting a unique ‘hydrogen-alpha’ light signature.

“I was pretty sure I had found something interesting,” Stanford researcher and study co-author Kate Follette said in a statement, “but in this field we’re always chasing objects that are just at the edge of what we can detect. The really cool thing is that it survived all of our —> Read More