'Protoplanet' throws light on planet formation

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Washington, Apr 3 (UNI) Astronomers have identified the youngest forming planet which is not yet visible but can vehemently explain the process of planet formation.

Using radio observatories in the UK and the US and computer simulations, a team of astronomers have identified the youngest forming planet or 'protoplanet' yet seen, Science Daily reported.

''We see a distinct orbiting ball of gas and dust, which is exactly how a very young protoplanet should look,'' Dr Greaves a lead resercher said.

''In the future, we would expect this to condense out into a gas giant planet like a massive version of Jupiter. The protoplanet is about 14 times as massive as Jupiter and is about twice as far from HL Tau as Neptune is from our Sun,'' he added.

''The new object, designated HL Tau b, is the youngest planetary object ever seen and is just 1 per cent as old as the young planet found in orbit around the star TW Hydrae that made the news last year,'' Dr Richards another researcher commented.

''HL Tau b gives a unique view of how planets take shape, because the Very Large Array (VLA) image also shows the parent disk material from which it formed,'' he remarked.

Team member Dr Ken Rice of the University of Edinburgh ran a computer simulation to find out how such a massive protoplanet could form.

This allows small regions to separate out and cool down into self-contained structures. This instability mechanism has been controversial, but the simulated and real data are such a good match that it seems the mechanism really does operate in nature.

''The simulations were as realistic as we could make them and we were delighted that the results compare so well with the observations,'' Dr Rice said.

Whether the proto-planet formed in only the last few hundred years, or sometime in the 100000 years since the birth of HL Tau, the images provide a unique view of planet formation in action, and the first picture of a protoplanet still embedded in its birth material.


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