New baby planet discovered

New baby planet discovered

14 June 2018

Dr Christophe Pinte, an ARC Future Fellow at the Monash School of Physics and Astronomy, and Associate Professor Daniel Price also an ARC Future Fellow at the School, make a world-first discovery with the observation of a new planet inside a protoplanetary disc. They used the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) telescope in Chile. This is the first ‘baby planet’ to be discovered still orbiting in the swirling disc of material that it was born in and it provides a missing link in our understanding of planet formation.

The picture above shows a computer model of the spiral pattern generated by a newborn planet orbiting in a disc of gas around a young star. Credit: Pinte et al 2018.

Using ALMA the astrophysicists made a map of how fast the material was swirling around the star. But while trying to understand this map they noticed an anomaly — part of the disc seemed to be flowing around something else.

“We compared the observations with computer models to show that the ‘something else’ fits beautifully with predictions for the flow pattern around a newborn planet,” Dr Pinte said.

“Even though we do not see the planet directly, we have a very strong indication that it is there, and that it is still interacting and feeding from its disc, just like a newborn baby feeding from its mother.”

The discovery means that with ALMA, scientists should be able to find many more planets in their infancy.