Astronomers may have directly photographed an exoplanet still in its formative years

Researchers stumble across an image of small dot orbiting a binary star system called CS Cha.
By Lliane Hunter | May 09, 2018
An international team of astronomers have photographed what could be an exoplanet in the midst of formation 600 light-years from Earth, writes Michelle Starr for Science Alert. The star (a binary called CS Cha) is very young, only 2 to 3 million years old, and is located in the southern constellation of Chamaeleon.

Researchers from Leiden University observed the star using the Spectro-Polarimetric High-contrast Exoplanet Research (SPHERE) instrument on the Very Large Telescope in Chile. The star, surrounded by a circumbinary disc revealed a small dot of light outside the disc. They pinpointed the same dot in images taken over the span of almost 20 yearsso, no anomaly. Researchers aren't entirely sure what the dot could be, but they suggest it could be a brown dwarf, or a large gas giant that is still growing.

"The tricky part is that the disc blocks a large part of the light and that is why we can hardly determine the mass of the companion," explains astronomer Christian Ginski from Leiden University, and lead author of the paper. "So it could be a brown dwarf but also a super-Jupiter in his toddler years."

Exoplanets are too far away to photograph directly, explains Starr. Astronomers infer their presence based on fluctuations they cause to their host star. Even rarer are brown dwarfs with a host star. So, to find out exactly what their object is, Ginski's team plans toconduct more observations using the Atacama Large Millimetre/submillimeter Array in Chile.

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