Astronomers studying a newborn star have caught a detailed glimpse of planets forming around it, revealing a never-before seen stage of planetary evolution.
Large gas giant planets appear to be clearing a gap in the disk of material surrounding the star, and using gravity to channel material across the gap to the interior, helping the star to grow. Theoretical simulations have predicted such bridges between outer and inner portions of disks surrounding stars, but none have been directly observed until now.
An international team of astronomers have used the partially completed Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) to study a young star about 450 light-years from Earth. They identified two thin filaments of gas streaming from the outer disk to the inner, across a broad gap cut by young planets.
"Currently, the only mechanism known to produce such gap-crossing dense molecular flows, with residual carbon monoxide gas more diffusely spread out inside the gap, is planetary formation," lead scientist Simon Casassus of the University of Chile told SPACE.com.
Far from Earth, the fledgling star HD 142527 is nearing the end of its formation process. Around 2 million years old, the young star is about twice as massive as the sun, though it is still slowly growing. A disk of spinning dust and gas left over from its formation surrounds the star, and from this material, planets are being created.