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In a swirling disk of dust and gas, astronomers think they've found a baby planet

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protoplanet (eso)
protoplanet (eso)

Scientists have found evidence that a new planet is forming in another solar system 335 light years away. According to the research team’s leader, Sascha Quanz, the nascent planet (called a protoplanet) would be a gas giant similar to Jupiter, and the finding would mark "the first time we are seeing a planet forming inside its natal environment." The news was reported by The Wall Street Journal, and the discovery was published in Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Dr. Quanz’s group made the finding when it pointed the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope at a young star about 2.5 times the size of our sun, HD 100546. A disk of dust, gas, and rocks surrounding the star showed some interesting asymmetries, indicating that something might be forming within it, which infrared imagery later confirmed. Whether that body is indeed a protoplanet is still unknown, but, assuming it is, there are multiple competing theories vying to explain its formation. A planet would take tens of thousands of years to fully form, but scientists are hopeful that they can use it to learn more about the processes at work by testing their theories against an observable target.