See the Birth of an Exoplanet for the First Time

At the center of the swirl, a bright yellow spot is has a characteristic twist that indicates the birth of a new exoplanet. (ESO/Boccaletti et al.)

This Very Large Telescope Snapped an Exoplanet’s Baby Photos

by Theresa Machemer/

Congratulations, it’s a gas giant! An international team of astronomers has captured the telltale signs of the birth of an exoplanet for the first time.

The fiery image shows a swirl of dust and gas near the young star AB Aurigae, located in the Auriga constellation that’s visible to stargazers in the northern hemisphere in winter. Storms of thick dust and gas around a young star are prime real estate for planets to form, and previous observations saw hints that formation had started. In 2019 and early 2020, astronomer Anthony Boccaletti of PSL University in Paris led an international team at the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope in Chile to capture what may be the first photograph of exoplanet formation. Their results published this month in Astronomy and Astrophysics.

“Here, in this particular case, we don’t see the planet,” Boccaletti tells Becky Ferreira at Vice. “We see the structure that the planet produces on the spiral—this is what we call a twist.”

The twist is a thick point in the yellow spiral that’s vaguely lightning-bolt or S-shaped, located near the center of the photograph

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