Newly born planets are among the most fascinating interstellar objects that humankind has come to observe, and are also among the most important scientific observations since they reveal a lot of information regarding the early years of the universe and the formation of it as we know it. However, while our space observations and explorations have led us to tab numerous exoplanets and even potentially habitable worlds, spotting the birth of newly born planets has been a difficult affair.
A new research project by the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics has detailed a process to spot newly born planets, starting with the observation of a new planet spotted over 518 light years away.
How the Process of Spotting Newly Born Planets Work
According to Feng Long, a postdoctoral fellow at the institute, while astrophysicists are sure about the region where planets are formed — in huge clouds of gas and dust called ‘protoplanetary discs’ — previous processes mean that spotting these newly born planets within the discs of dust was a difficult affair.
To make these observations, the scientists used Chile’s iconic Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) radio telescope, with which they inspected a region known as LkCa 15 — located 518 light years away in the Taurus constellation. Using the high resolution data from the radio telescope, Long and the entire team observed properties in this system that denoted the formation of newly born planets the size of Neptune or Saturn.
According to the research, this discovery could be critical since the present generation technology does not facilitate the imaging of newly born planets — which makes passive discovery using on-ground radio telescope data critical in terms of observing the early years of the universe.
Explaining why this new process is key in the reserach paper, Long said in a statement, “Directly detecting young planets is very challenging and has so far only been successful in one or two cases. The planets are always too faint for us to see because they’re embedded in thick layers of gas and dust. In the past few years, we’ve seen many structures pop up on disks that we think are caused by a planet’s presence, but it could be caused by something else, too. We need new techniques to look at and support that a planet is there.”
Going forward, it remains to be seen if this breakthrough proves critical for space research, and the impact it has on our research of space bodies.