By: April Carson
Just older siblings must learn to share when a new baby arrives, a similar dynamic may be occurring in a star system located approximately 400 light years away. In this distant system, a nascent planet appears to be encroaching upon the orbit of an existing gas giant, vying for its space.
This marks the first time that such a phenomenon has been observed in an exoplanetary system and may enable scientists to learn more about how planets form near each other.
If confirmed, this discovery would mark the first instance of two planets sharing an orbit—an unprecedented occurrence. While we are familiar with numerous small asteroids, known as trojans, that co-orbit with Jupiter, and even a few around Earth, it is likely that these celestial bodies were captured fully-formed by the gravitational fields of the planets, rather than originating in their current locations.
Álvaro Ribas and his colleagues at the University of Cambridge have observed a dust cloud that bears resemblance to either a forming planet or the remnants of one. Intriguingly, this cloud appears to share the same orbit as the exoplanet PDS 70b, a massive gas giant still in its early stages of development. Ribas suggests that if this holds and leads to the creation of asteroids, moons, and potentially even terrestrial planets, it could signify the birth of such trojans in situ. This discovery opens up new possibilities and paves the way for further exploration in our understanding of planetary formation.
In their search for the second planet, Ribas and his colleagues utilized the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile, which stands as the world’s second-largest telescope. Their focus was on PDS 70b's Lagrangian points, those stable gravitational points where trojan bodies are most likely to reside. Ultimately, they discovered a dust sphere, comparable in mass to Earth's moon, comprised of rocks measuring centimeters in size.
According to Matija Cuk from the SETI Institute in California, this system is remarkably young. The orbital matter associated with this planet is considered primordial, as it originated alongside the planet itself. Over time, this dust and possibly gas accumulated at the trojan point during the planet's formation. Such a phenomenon is not observed in our solar system. "We expect this situation to be different," Cuk said in an interview.
After acquiring additional information, the matter of nomenclature for this object remains. As per the guidelines set by the International Astronomical Union (IAU), a celestial body can only be classified as a planet if it holds sole dominance over its gravitational precinct. Pluto was demoted from its planetary status due to a condition known as "clearing the neighborhood." This is because its moon, Charon, exerts a significant gravitational influence, making it large enough to impact its surroundings.
"We don't know yet if the cloud is bound to the planet or not," Ribas said. "This makes it difficult to decide whether this object should be considered a planet".
Despite this ambiguity, one thing is certain: This discovery will undoubtedly draw more attention and resources to the study of planetary formation. If confirmed, scientists will have an unprecedented opportunity to observe how such a system evolves. This could be groundbreaking for the field of astronomy and provide insights into the formative processes our solar system underwent billions of years ago.
Further research into PDS 70b's companion is certainly warranted, as it could hold crucial information regarding planetary formation and evolution. Understanding their origins has implications for how planets interact with one another and more broadly, what lies in store for our home system. As Ribas and his team continue their investigation, our eyes are set on the stars in anticipation of what could be.
The potential for groundbreaking discoveries continues to galvanize the field of astronomy. Researchers across the world wait with bated breath as they hunt for answers about our universe and its infinite mysteries.
Time the Anunnaki and Quantum Physics Billy Carson
April Carson is the daughter of Billy Carson. She received her bachelor's degree in Social Sciences from Jacksonville University, where she was also on the Women's Basketball team. She now has a successful clothing company that specializes in organic baby clothes and other items. Take a look at their most popular fall fashions on bossbabymav.com
To read more of April's blogs, check out her website! She publishes new blogs on a daily basis, including the most helpful mommy advice and baby care tips! Follow on IG @bossbabymav
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