The European Southern Observatory released unprecidented footage of an orange cosmic spiral, twisting and swirling around a galactic maw this past Wednesday. The mass is shown collapsing into gravitational tipping point, coalescing into a new planet. It may be the first time humanity has caught a glimpse of a planet being being born.
"Thousands of exoplanets have been identified so far, but little is known about how they form," the lead author of a study detailing the discovery, Anthony Boccaletti, an astronomer at the Observatoire de Paris in France, said in a statement .
Planets are formed when gas, dust, and other space crap is pulled together by the gravity surrounding a young star. As these particles spin through the solar system, they fuse together. After billions of years of these processes, these clusters get big enough to start generating their own gravity. Then a martian survey alien comes down, jots the planet's stats down, and it's officially a planet.
The last part of that statement is untrue.
The photo was taken around AB Aurigae, which is 520 light-years from Earth in the constellation of Auriga. The spiral in the center of the photo with the orange-yellow light is thought to be a planet being born.
When a planet forms, the clumps of material create wavelike perturbations in the gas- and dust-filled disc around a star, "somewhat like the wake of a boat on a lake," Emmanuel Di Folco, a researcher at the Astrophysics Laboratory of Bordeaux in France who participated in the study, said. The research team, made up of astronomers from France, Taiwan, the U.S. and Belgium, said the images are the deepest observations of the AB Aurigae system made to date.
"The twist is expected from some theoretical models of planet formation," said Anne Dutrey, an astronomer at the Astrophysics Laboratory of Bordeaux and co-author of the study, published Wednesday in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics . "It corresponds to the connection of two spirals — one winding inwards of the planet's orbit, the other expanding outwards — which join at the planet location."