Scientists might have discovered one of the youngest planets ever

What now?
Chris Young
AS 209 is a young star in the Ophiuchus constellation that scientists have now determined is host to what may be one of the youngest exoplanets ever.
AS 209 is a young star in the Ophiuchus constellation that scientists have now determined is host to what may be one of the youngest exoplanets ever.

ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), A. Sierra (U. Chile) 

  • Scientists made the first-ever detection of gas in a circumplanetary disk.
  • The new discovery sheds new light on early planetary formation.
  • James Webb may soon train its state-of-the-art instruments on the same region of space. It could confirm the existence of a Jupiter-mass planet in the process.

Scientists used the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) to make a world-first detection of gas in a circumplanetary disk.

During their observations, they also found what they believe to be the signs of a very young exoplanet, a press statement reveals.

What are circumplanetary disks?

Circumplanetary disks are typically ring-shaped accumulations of gas, dust, and debris that form around young planets. These floating materials often accumulate into large objects, giving rise to moons, planets, and other rocky accumulations. Scientists investigate these disks to learn more about the early formation of planetary systems, as well as the formation of our own Solar System. As a point of reference, scientists believe Jupiter's Galilean moons formed in a circumplanetary disk roughly 4.5 billion years ago.

The scientists who made the first-ever detection of gas in a circumplanetary disk were investigating a young star called AS 209. It is located in the constellation Ophiuchus, roughly 395 light-years from Earth. While making their observations, they noticed a blob of light in what was otherwise an empty gap in the gas seen around the star. That led to the detection of the circumplanetary disk, which is potentially surrounding a Jupiter-mass planet.

An exciting time for astronomy

Scientists are intrigued both by the planet's distance from its star, as well as the star's age. The exoplanet is located more 18.59 billion miles (200 astronomical units) away from the host star, which goes against accepter theories regarding planetary formation. What's more, the host star is believed to be approximately 1.6 million years old, which would make the exoplanet one of the youngest ever detected. More investigation is, of course, needed and the scientists behind the new observations hope to conduct a follow-up investigation using the James Webb Space Telescope. This could help them confirm the existence of the Jupiter-mass exoplanet at the same time as learning more about the surrounding circumplanetary disk.

"The best way to study planet formation is to observe planets while they're forming. We are living in a very exciting time when this happens thanks to powerful telescopes, such as ALMA and JWST," said Jaehan Bae, a professor of astronomy at the University of Florida and the lead author of a paper on the findings, published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

In 2019, ALMA was also used to make the first-ever detection of a circumplanetary, moon-forming disk during observation of the exoplanet PDS 70c. Soon, James Webb will continue to shed new light on the cosmos if and when it trains its impressive instruments on AS 209. It is, indeed, an incredibly exciting time for astronomy.

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