Possible 'toddler planet' uncovered in distant galaxy

Astronomers believe they have found a newborn planet 600 light years from Earth.
By Joseph Scalise | Dec 09, 2018
A group of international astronomers working at the Very Large Telescope (VLT) have spotted a mysterious object they believe could be the first newborn gas giant on record.

Scientists initially spotted the body while researching the binary star CS Cha, which sits some 600 light years away from Earth.

The double star system is unique in many ways. Not only is it young -- just two or three million years old -- but it is also surrounded by a proto-planetary disc where new planets form.

During their analysis of the disk, the team behind the recent studynoticed a tiny dot of light right at the edge of images taken by the VLT's Spectro-Polarimetric High-contrast Exoplanet Research instrument.

That anomaly prompted them to take a closer look at old images of the system capturedby both the Hubble Space Telescope and VLT. Though it used to be lighter, the dot showed up in every picture. That suggests the object is a binary companion that has been moving along with the system for multiple millennia.

However, while researchers know the object belongs to the binary, they are not sure what it is or how it first came about. Even planetary models came up empty.

The team has come up with two potential possibilities so far. One is that the dot is a newborn gas-giant and the other is that it is a young brown dwarf star.

"The most exciting part is that the light of the companion is highly polarized, and we suspect that the companion is surrounded by his own dust disc," lead author Christian Ginski, a researcher at Leiden University, according toInternational Business Times. "The tricky part is that we can hardly fix the mass of the companion. So it could be a brown dwarf but also a super Jupiter in his toddler years. The classical planet-forming-models cannot help us."

Now that the team knows the body exists, they next plan to take a closer look at it with the Atacama Large Millimeter Array. That could give them a direct look at the binary, which may then better help them understand different celestial phenomena.

"Once the system is well understood it might be considered a benchmark system for planet and brown dwarf formation scenarios," wrote the team in their research, according to Science Alert.

The study is set to be published inAstronomy & Astrophysics.

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