Science

Alien Planet Photos: Astronomers Snap New World, 335 Light Years Away

By Hilda Scott , Mar 02, 2013 08:12 AM EST

Scientists believe that what appears to be a small planet similar to Jupiter is forming from gas and dust around a young star. Astronomers released a snapshot of the alien planet taken by the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope located in Chile.

The young star HD 100546 is 335 light-years from Earth and observations led astronomers to believe it has another planet orbiting too. 

"So far, planet formation has mostly been a topic tackled by computer simulations," astronomer Sascha Quanz of ETH Zurich in Switzerland, leader of the research team, said. "If our discovery is indeed a forming planet, then for the first time scientists will be able to study the planet formation process and the interaction of a forming planet and its natal environment empirically at a very early stage."

As what scientists imagine, the new planet appears to be forming from leftover material that orbits around that star's birth. Stars come into existence when gas and dust clouds form and scientists believe that the disk of leftover material is how planets take shape.

"Exoplanet research is one of the most exciting new frontiers in astronomy, and direct imaging of planets is still a new field, greatly benefiting from recent improvements in instruments and data analysis methods," said Adam Amara a member of the research team. "In this research we used data analysis techniques developed for cosmological research, showing that cross-fertilization of ideas between fields can lead to extraordinary progress."

The results of the study will be investigated further to confirm the existence of the planet, although observations are leading astronomers to believe that it is a protoplanet. There other possible explanations, perhaps it's not a protoplanet but a full planet. Researchers must discard any other plausible explanations to know for certain.

 The findings from the observation were detailed and published in Astrophysical Journal Letters.

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