More than 5,000 planets exist outside our solar system, according to NASA, and this week astronomers announced they may have discovered the youngest ever.
Scientists using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile report in the journal The Astrophysical Journal Letters the first-ever detection of gas in a circular disk, collections of dust and debris around young planets.
The finding suggests the presence of a very young exoplanet — the term for a planet found outside our solar system, according to the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, which partners with the ALMA site.
While studying AS 209 — a young star 395 light-years from Earth in the constellation Ophiuchus, which graces the summer sky — astronomers observed “a blob of emitted light in the center of an otherwise empty gap in the gas surrounding the star.” , according to an NRAO news article about the findings Tuesday.
That led to the detection of the circumplanetary disk around a potential Jupiter-mass planet, according to the Radio Astronomy Observatory article.
Researchers are closely monitoring the planet, which is 18.59 billion miles away from the host star. This distance “challenges that are currently accepted theories of planet formation,” the observatory said. “And if the host star’s estimated age of just 1.6 million years is correct, this exoplanet could be one of the youngest ever.”
The new observations of gas in a circumplanetary disk on AS 209 may shed more light on the evolution of planetary atmospheres and the processes by which moons form, the observatory said.
The galaxy has also been of interest to scientists for more than five years because of the presence of seven nested rings, which researchers believe are related to planet formation.
Further research is needed, scientists said, and astrophysicists hope forthcoming observations with the James Webb Space Telescope will confirm the planet’s presence.
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“The best way to study planet formation is to observe planets as they form. We live in a very exciting time where this is happening thanks to powerful telescopes like ALMA and JWST,” said Jaehan Bae, a professor of astronomy at the University of Florida and lead author of the paper.
The first images from the $10 billion telescope — launched on December 25, 2021 — went viral in July when they were released to the public. The scientific marvel, a joint project of NASA, the Canadian Space Agency and the European Space Agency, has traveled 1 million miles through space.
Natalie Neysa Alund covers trending news for USA TODAY. Reach her at [email protected]today.com and follow her on Twitter @nataliealund.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Astronomers Say They May Have Found the Youngest Planet in the Milky Way