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Galactic wonder Swiss astronomers discover birth of new planet

An artist's impression of the new gas planet HD100546 b

(Keystone)

The discovery of a new planet in the first stages of creation has given astronomers at Zurich’s Federal Institute of Technology (ETHZ) a unique view of one of the wonders of the universe.

The young gas planet was pinpointed using the Very Large Telescope (VLT) at the European Southern Observatory on Paranal Mountain in the Atacama desert in Chile. Although five to ten million years old, HD 100546 b is still considered youthful in astronomical terms.

And at a mere 335 light years away, the new born planet is also classified as a near neighbour to Earth.

Sascha Quanz and his team first noticed the object in a massive cloud of gas and dust orbiting a new star in 2013. But it was first thought that it might be an older planet that was being expelled from the star’s orbit.

However, the more likely explanation now being put forward in the Astrophysical Journal is that scientists are witnessing the earliest ever formation of a new planet.

“It provides us with unique observational data on what happens when a gas giant is formed,” Quanz said. “Now we have a kind of ‘laboratory’ that can give us empirical data.” Previously this data could only be extrapolated from computer simulations.

It is even suspected that another planet may be orbiting the star, but further observation time is needed to test this theory.

PlanetS

Other scientists have found two other young stars that may be harbouring new planets, but at a much later stage of formation.

HD 100546 b is estimated to be seven times the diameter of Jupiter and to have a surface temperature of 600 degrees Celsius. It is orbiting its star at a distance 50 times greater than the Earth orbits the Sun.

The astronomical study was conducted within the framework of PlanetS, one of Switzerland’s National Centres of Competence in Research.

swissinfo.ch

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