JUL 25, 2023 4:50 PM PDT

ESO Telescopes Uncover Dusty Clumps Close to Young Star: Potential Giant Planet Formation

The European Southern Observatory (ESO) recently released a stunning image of the young star system, V960 Mon, which is located approximately 5,000 light-years from Earth and possesses massive clumps of dust that could eventually form into a Jupiter-sized planet. This image corresponds to a study published today in The Astrophysical Journal Letters describing the discovery and holds the potential to help astronomers better understand the formation and evolution of Jupiter-sized planets within our galaxy.

Image of the young star V960 Mon (center), which is located over 5,000 light-years from Earth in the constellation Monoceros. The dusty material encircling the star holds the potential to form Jupiter sized planets. (Credit: ESO/ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)/Weber et al.)

“This discovery is truly captivating as it marks the very first detection of clumps around a young star that have the potential to give rise to giant planets,” said Dr. Alice Zurlo, who participated in the observations and is a researcher at the Diego Portales University in Chile, and a co-author on the study.

For the discovery, the researchers used observations from 2014 when V960 Mon experienced a large outburst of energy, resulting in its brightness increasing by a factor of 20. Using the  Spectro-Polarimetric High-contrast Exoplanet REsearch (SPHERE) instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) immediately after the outburst, astronomers found material within the system was forming into a series of spiral arms that spanned greater than our solar system. Astronomers then analyzed archival data from the ESO’s VLT and the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) for further investigation.

“With ALMA, it became apparent that the spiral arms are undergoing fragmentation, resulting in the formation of clumps with masses akin to those of planets,” explains Dr. Zurlo.  

The researchers note that further observations are necessary to better understand the system and what planets could form within it. They hope to use the ESO’s Extremely Large Telescope (ELT), which is presently under construction in the Atacama Desert of Chile.

“The ELT will enable the exploration of the chemical complexity surrounding these clumps, helping us find out more about the composition of the material from which potential planets are forming,” notes Dr. Philipp Weber, who is a researcher at the University of Santiago in Chile, and lead author of the study.

What new planets could be forming within the V960 Mon system, and what could further findings teach us about planetary formation and evolution in the coming years and decades? Only time will tell, and this is why we science!

As always, keep doing science & keep looking up!

Sources: EurekAlert!, The Astrophysical Journal Letters, European Southern Observatory, European Southern Observatory (1), European Southern Observatory (2), European Southern Observatory (3), European Southern Observatory (4)

About the Author
Master's (MA/MS/Other)
Laurence Tognetti is a six-year USAF Veteran who earned both a BSc and MSc from the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University. Laurence is extremely passionate about outer space and science communication, and is the author of “Outer Solar System Moons: Your Personal 3D Journey”.
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