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3 baby alien planets detected around newborn star

15 June 2018, 11:09 | Justin Tyler

Astronomers Just Discovered Three Planets in an Entirely New Way

3 Baby Alien Planets Detected Around Newborn Star

To detect the new planets, the astronomers used a new technique that detects anomalous patterns of flowing gas within planet-forming disks. Instead of predictable patterns of gas, they observed a dramatic shift in the wavelengths of carbon monoxide in three regions, which can be explained by the existence of three massive protoplanets.

In the past, thanks to ALMA, the astronomers were able to detect large gaps within planet-forming disks, which they believed were the result of the creation of new planets.

The baby planets have been spotted roughly 330 light years from our solar system (yes, that's relatively close!) orbiting around a newborn star named HD 163296.

Analysing the mass and velocity of the gas in protoplanetary disks was the crucial ability allowed by ALMA's high-resolution data on the flow of carbon monoxide throughout the disks. "This entirely new approach could uncover some of the youngest planets in our galaxy, all thanks to the high-resolution images from ALMA", said Richard Teague, an astronomer at the University of MI and principal author on the other paper that identified the two closest in protoplanets. While another team, led by Christophe Pinte of Australia's Monash University, identified a planet situated 39 billion kilometres from the star. All the three planets are embedded within HD 1632296 protoplanetary disk. You can see one of these "kinks" in the gas distribution above.

"We looked at the localized, small-scale motion of gas in a star's protoplanetary disk", said University of MI astronomer and study principal author Richard Teague.

All three exoplanets reside within the protoplanetary disk, and that's how the researchers managed to find them. The protoplanetary disks are the gas- and dust-filled planet factories that encircle young stars. Subtle changes in the wavelength of this light due to the Doppler effect reveal the motions of the gas in the disc.

ALMA image of the protoplanetary disk surrounding the young star HD 163296, as seen in dust. The planet is also in the star's habitable zone, just 4.7 million miles (7.5 million kilometers) from its host star.


The new technique could help science understand the intricate processes of planetary formation and reveal potentially countless other planets that can't be found through other strategies. It has one major drawback, though: planetary transits are observable only when the planet's orbit happens to be perfectly aligned with the astronomers' line of sight.

"The precision is mind boggling", said co-author Dr Til Birnstiel of the University Observatory of Munich.

[4] These correspond to 80, 140 and 260 times the distance from the Earth to the Sun.

The system consists of three newly formed planets gravitating around a nearby star, dubbed HD 163296. The technique used by Pinte, which more directly measured the flow of the gas, is better suited to studying the outer portion of the disc.

This is why two new studies published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters (1 and 2) are such a big deal.

The first is entitled "Kinematic evidence for an embedded protoplanet in a circumstellar disc", by C Pinte et al and the second "A Kinematic Detection of Two Unseen Jupiter Mass Embedded Protoplanets", by R Teague et al.



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