Reprinted with permission from Quanta Magazine’s Abstractions blog.Astronomers have discovered a complex planetary system still swirling into existence.Photograph by ESO / A. Müller et alAstronomers have spent decades, if not centuries, hoping to see embryonic planets. As of a year ago, the closest they had come was the discovery of gaps, thought to be caused by budding planets, in the spinning disks of gas and dust that surround young stars. But they weren’t sure how to interpret these indirect clues.What a difference a year makes. Increasingly detailed observations of a star called PDS 70, which is a little smaller than the sun and some 370 light-years from Earth, have revealed not just one newborn planet, but evidence of a second. These planets are so young that they appear to still be growing. What’s more, a recent paper argues that one of these planets is surrounded by its own swirling disk of gas and dust, the kind of structure thought to hatch large moons. If confirmed, this would be a spectacular validation of long-held ideas about how planets and their moons form.The first discovery came last June, when a team of astronomers published an image of a…Read More…
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