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February 25, 2011

Planet birth witnessed for 1st time

For the first time, scientists believe they've detected the birth of a new world around a distant sun-like star.

If confirmed, the discovery, using the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope, would provide scientists with the earliest view yet of the early stages of planetary formation.

Astronomers studying T Chamaeleontis (T Cha), a faint star 350 light years from Earth in the southern constellation of Chamaeleon, detected a large gap in a disc of material around the star. They then found a small object in the disc which may be the cause of the gap.

Scientists know planets form out of the discs of material around young stars, but theory says the transition from dust disc to planetary system is rapid and few objects are caught during this phase.

This is the first time a forming planet has been found in one of these transitional discs, although planets in more mature discs have been seen before.

After careful analysis they found the clear signature of an object located within the gap in the dust disc, about one billion kilometres from the star. That's slightly further out than Jupiter lies from our sun.

This is the first detection of an object much smaller than a star within a gap in the planet-forming dust disc around a young star.

To me, this is an awesome discovery. In class, I feel like a lot of the things we talk about with planets are from way in the past. This is extremely interesting because it is actually happening right now.

Posted by scottymg at February 25, 2011 01:10 PM


I agree, this will be very interesting for scientists to keep an eye on. It will be good to see if other plantets, moons, etc form in the area. This could demonstrate our nebular theory, but it would be nice if we were around much longer to watch it all take place. I think the most interesting thing to watch for would be to see if small planets form closer to the parent star, which may end up being a good place for life to form.

Posted by: emslade at February 27, 2011 04:02 PM

This is so cool. I wonder if the planet will form to be a gas planet like Jupiter due to its distance from its sun. I also think it would be a good discovery if other planets did form around this star, it would be great to explore. It would be so cool to witness the forming of another solar system, especially because it would close to looking at the history of the forming of our own galaxy.

Posted by: mackenro at February 27, 2011 06:40 PM

It's important to remember that everything we see in space is, in fact, in the past, kind of like looking into a time machine. The birth of this planet happened a long time ago, but because it is so far away, and light travels at a certain speed in space, we are only seeing these events now. It is because of this "time machine" effect that we are able to understand so much about our own solar system's past.

Posted by: jordk at February 27, 2011 11:07 PM

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