Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Spiral of dust and gas around AB Aurigae

Discovering an extrasolar planet is a fairly common thing today, while discovering one in its early life is already rarer. But being able to directly photograph a planet in formation is something unique and extraordinary. ESO astronomers obtained this historic image using the VLT telescope.

The image shows a spiral of dust and gas around the star AB Aurigae, 520 light years from Earth. The circumstellar disk shows evident signs of the presence of a planet: the spiral structure is in fact created by the planet which, orbiting around the star, disturbs the surrounding gas by sweeping it away from its orbit.

By studying the characteristics of the spiral structures created by the planet's gravitational forces, it was also possible to determine its orbit! It is believed that the planet lies inside the bright yellow ring, located about 30 UA from its star, that is about the same distance which separates Neptune from the Sun.

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