For the first time ever, scientists have been able to see planets as they are born. In photographs obtained by the Large Binocular Telescope and the Magellan Adaptive Optics System, astronomers watched as a ring of material formed into planets around a young star. This discovery could lead to the discovery of other forming exoplanets and give scientists answers to how planets are formed and then evolve into solar systems such as ours.

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The telescope and optics system was able to photograph LkCa 15, a gas-giant exoplanet forming around a young star about 450 light years from Earth. The LkCa 15 system, according to, features a “disk of dust and gas” around a “sun-like” star that’s just two million years young. The scientific team, led by Stephanie Sallum, a graduate student at the University of Arizona, used the Large Binocular Telescope, an observatory in southeastern Arizona that has two 27-foot-wide mirrors.

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The scientists confirmed that one giant protoplanet (not quite a planet, yet) existed and called it LkCa 15b. They were able to see it in hydrogen-alpha photons which are a type of light emitted when “superheated material accretes onto a newly forming world.” Essentially, the new planets are surrounded by “feeder” material.

Another newborn planet, LkCa 15c is also inside the gap between star and the dust ring and it’s possible that another LkCa 15d is also there. “We’re seeing sources in the clearing,” Sallum said. “This is the first time that we’ve been able to connect a forming planet to a gap in a protoplanetary disk.”


Images via Stephanie Sallum and NASA