Astronomers discover possible ‘toddler’ exoplanet by accident

While observing a young star system, astronomers noticed the star had a small, mysterious companion in its orbit.

A mysterious companion to the binary system CS Cha is observed. (Image: Ginski et al.)
A mysterious companion to the binary system CS Cha is observed. (Image: Ginski et al.)


 

Astronomers believe they’ve stumbled upon a “toddler” exoplanet while observing a young star 540 million light years from Earth.

The team, led by Christian Ginski of Leiden Observatory in the Netherlands, was studying a binary system called CS Cha, which is located in a star-forming region in the southern constellation of Chamaeleon. To observe the system, the team used the Spectro-Polarimetric High-contrast Exoplanet Research (SPHERE) instrument, part of the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile.

At just 2 to 3 million years old, CS Cha is a remarkably young star system. It’s at the age where astronomers would expect it to be surrounded by a protoplanetary disc of gas and dust that eventually gives rise to planets. The team was looking for this disc when they noticed in the photographs a small dot around the star.


CS Cha system with companion. (Image: Ginski et al.)

The dot suggested CS Cha had a companion, one that could be a very young exoplanet. To rule out the possibility that the observation was a glitch, the team looked at two sets of old photographs of the star system–one from the VLT’s NACO instrument 11 years ago, another taken by the Hubble Space Telescope’s Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2 19 years ago.

The dot was observed in both sets. But that doesn’t mean scientists can confirm exactly what the companion is. It could be a brown dwarf, a very low-mass star that’s too small to sustain hydrogen fusion. It could also be a young gas giant in the beginning stages of development—what’s known as a super-Jupiter.


 

Graphic of CS Cha and its surrounding dust cloud. (Image: Ginski et al.)

“We suspect that the companion is surrounded by his own dust disk,” Ginski said in a statement. “The tricky part is that the disk blocks a large part of the light, and that is why we can hardly determine the mass of the companion. So, it could be a brown dwarf but also a super-Jupiter in his toddler years. The classical planet-forming-models can't help us.”

Either scenario would amount to a rare discovery, considering the first direct photo of an exoplanet was announced in 2009, and “brown dwarf companions to solar-type stars are extremely rare,” as researcher Michael McElwain of Princeton University told Space.com.

The team’s paper is scheduled to be published in Astronomy & Astrophysics.

How New York's largest hospital system is predicting COVID-19 spikes

Northwell Health is using insights from website traffic to forecast COVID-19 hospitalizations two weeks in the future.

Credit: Getty Images
Sponsored by Northwell Health
  • The machine-learning algorithm works by analyzing the online behavior of visitors to the Northwell Health website and comparing that data to future COVID-19 hospitalizations.
  • The tool, which uses anonymized data, has so far predicted hospitalizations with an accuracy rate of 80 percent.
  • Machine-learning tools are helping health-care professionals worldwide better constrain and treat COVID-19.
Keep reading Show less

Designer uses AI to bring 54 Roman emperors to life

It's hard to stop looking back and forth between these faces and the busts they came from.

Meet Emperors Augustus, left, and Maximinus Thrax, right

Credit: Daniel Voshart
Technology & Innovation
  • A quarantine project gone wild produces the possibly realistic faces of ancient Roman rulers.
  • A designer worked with a machine learning app to produce the images.
  • It's impossible to know if they're accurate, but they sure look plausible.
Keep reading Show less

Dark matter axions possibly found near Magnificent 7 neutron stars

A new study proposes mysterious axions may be found in X-rays coming from a cluster of neutron stars.

A rendering of the XMM-Newton (X-ray multi-mirror mission) space telescope.

Credit: D. Ducros; ESA/XMM-Newton, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO
Surprising Science
  • A study led by Berkeley Lab suggests axions may be present near neutron stars known as the Magnificent Seven.
  • The axions, theorized fundamental particles, could be found in the high-energy X-rays emitted from the stars.
  • Axions have yet to be observed directly and may be responsible for the elusive dark matter.
  • Keep reading Show less

    Put on a happy face? “Deep acting” associated with improved work life

    New research suggests you can't fake your emotional state to improve your work life — you have to feel it.

    Credit: Columbia Pictures
    Personal Growth
  • Deep acting is the work strategy of regulating your emotions to match a desired state.
  • New research suggests that deep acting reduces fatigue, improves trust, and advances goal progress over other regulation strategies.
  • Further research suggests learning to attune our emotions for deep acting is a beneficial work-life strategy.
  • Keep reading Show less
    Surprising Science

    World's oldest work of art found in a hidden Indonesian valley

    Archaeologists discover a cave painting of a wild pig that is now the world's oldest dated work of representational art.

    Scroll down to load more…
    Quantcast