Astronomers May Have Discovered the Youngest Planet Ever Detected in Our Galaxy

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Astronomers May Have Discovered the Youngest Planet Ever Detected in Our Galaxy

Scientists studying the young star AS 209 have detected gas in a circumplanetary disk for the first time, which suggests the star system may be harboring a very young Jupiter-mass planet. Science images from the research show (right) blob-like emissions of light coming from otherwise empty gaps in the highly-structured, seven-ring disk (left). Credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), J. Bae (University of Florida)

Circumplanetary disks are an accumulation of gas, dust, and debris around young planets. These disks contain the material that may form moons and other small, rocky objects, and control the growth of young, giant planets. Analyzing these disks in their earliest stages may help shed light on the formation of our own Solar System, including that of Jupiter’s Galilean moons, which scientists believe formed in a circumplanetary disk of Jupiter around 4.5 billion years ago.

While studying AS 209 — a young star located approximately 395 light-years from Earth in the constellation Ophiuchus — astronomers observed a blob of emitted light in the middle of an otherwise empty gap in the gas surrounding the star. That led to the detection of the circumplanetary disk surrounding a potential Jupiter-mass planet.

“The best way to study planet formation is to observe planets while they’re forming. We are living in a very exciting time when this happens thanks to powerful telescopes, such as ALMA and JWST,” said Jaehan Bae, a professor of astronomy at the University of Florida and the lead author of the paper.

AS 209 is a young star in the Ophiuchus constellation that scientists have now determined is host to what may be one of the youngest exoplanets ever. Credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), A. Sierra (U. Chile)

Artist impression of the circumplanetary disk discovered in 2021 around a young planet in the PDS 70 star system. Credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), S. Dagnello (NRAO/AUI/NSF)

The Discovery at AS 209 is Only the Third Confirmed Detection Ever of a Circumplanetary Disk

Astronomers have long suspected the presence of circumplanetary disks around exoplanets, but until recently were unable to prove it. In 2019, ALMA scientists made the first-ever detection of a circumplanetary, moon-forming disk while observing the young exoplanet PDS 70c, and confirmed the find in 2021. The new observations of gas in a circumplanetary disk at AS 209 may reveal additional details about the development of planetary atmospheres and the processes by which moons are formed.