Put a Ring on it

Look: Astronomers clearly capture planets and moons forming in deep space

ESO/L. Calçada, ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)/Benisty et al.

ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)/Benisty et al.

Nearly 400 light-years from Earth, two new planets are forming inside this giant circumstellar disc.

Inside that, a smaller disc is circling one of the planets.

ESO/L. Calçada, ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)/Benisty et al.

Astronomers have long hypothesized that these circumplanetary discs exist, but it wasn’t until recent years that they actually spotted one in the universe.

In 2019, the planet and its disc, located near the dwarf star PDS 70 was first detected.

This is the image the researchers captured.


ESO/Digitized Sky Survey 2. Acknowledgement: Davide De Martin

But it wasn’t until now that further analysis and sharper visuals showed that the planet did, in fact, have a ring around it — the type of disc that forms moons.

Here, a zoomed-in shot illustrates one of the forming planets and its disc, PDS 70c, next to the star. New images of the phenomenon are described in a July 22 report in Astrophysical Journal Letters. ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)/Benisty et al.

ESO/L. Calçada, ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)/Benisty et al.

These spinning discs of dust and gas are thought to form new orbiting bodies, like moons. Forming spheres suck up resources as they pack more densely and orbit around their home planet.

imageBROKER/Alexander von Dueren/imageBROKER/Getty Images

Though no moons have been spotted yet, researchers say the planet PDS 70c has the potential to form them, thanks to its disc.

The PDS 70 system is marked by the red circle in the constellation Centaurus.ESO, IAU and Sky & Telescope
If you were to zoom into that constellation, here’s what a trip through the universe might look like as you move toward PDS 70. ESO, N. Risinger (skysurvey.org), DSS, ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)/Benisty et al.

ESO/L. Calçada, ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)/Benisty et al.

The discovery is rare and will help researchers better understand how planets and moons form around a young star.

“PDS 70b and PDS 70c, which form a system reminiscent of the Jupiter-Saturn pair, are the only two exoplanets detected so far that are still in the process of being formed.”

Miriam Keppler, study co-author and researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy


NASA via Giphy

The discovery might help us better understand the history of our own galaxy, as well.