Imagine being able to see our planet being formed. Well scientists have seen something very similar with a new planet being formed in a Solar System 450 light years away from Earth. Although scientists have found 2,000 Exoplanets up to now but none of them were in the process of being formed. The Solar System is based around the extravagantly named star LkCa 15 with the planet discovered by a team of scientists from both the US and Australia.
“This is the first time that we’ve imaged a planet that we can say is still forming,”said Stephanie Sallum, an astronomer with the University of Arizona, who led the study with colleague Kate Follett.
The findings, published in Nature, describe how LkCa15 is surrounded by a special kind of protoplanetary disk, which forms around young stars from the debris that remains after the star has itself formed. The researchers’ hypothesis – now supported by their images – is that planets form inside the disk, accreting together from the debris and dust.
“The reason we selected this system is because it’s built around a very young star that has material left over from the star-formation process,” said Follette. “It’s like a big doughnut. This system is special because it’s one of a handful of disks that has a solar-system size gap in it. And one of the ways to create that gap is to have planets forming in there.”
In this case, LkCa15 is approximately 2 million years old, but that’s comparatively young for a star, and recent enough for the system to still feature a circumstellar disk of debris capable of giving birth to new planets.
As many as three planets are in the process of formation around the star, with the researchers tracking their planetary motion between 2009 and 2015, using advanced tools including the world’s largest telescope, the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT) in Arizona, and the Magellan Telescope in Chile.