The striking image offers astronomers the opportunity to observe a system featuring both newly-forming planets and moons at the same time.
Scientists have caught an image of a circumstellar disc and a planet within it with a moon-forming disc that resembles the Eye of Sauron from the Lord of the Rings film series.
Observations of the system, which is about 400 light years away in the constellation Centaurus, indicate a planet dubbed PDS 70c within the circumstellar disc that is surrounded by a disc 500 times larger than Saturn’s.
Infrared wavelengths were used to image the exoplanet for the first time in 2019, but a fresh observation from Chile’s Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) has shown the structure in much greater detail.
The new planetary disc, which is just visible as a point of light in the image above, is not the ring observed in the “Eye of Sauron” photograph, according to the European Southern Observatory (ESO).
PDS 70c is one of two Jupiter-like planets orbiting the star, but astronomers were unsure whether or not discs were developing around them until recently.
“Our findings show a definite detection of a disc in which satellites may be developing,” said Dr. Myriam Benisty, lead author of the study published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.
“Because our ALMA data were taken at such high resolution, we were able to clearly establish that the disc is connected with the planet and constrain its size for the first time, ” Dr. Benisty continued.
Planets are thought to develop in the dusty discs that surround newborn stars, cutting out voids as they consume material to grow.
The planets can then acquire their own discs, which help them grow by managing the quantity of material that falls on them.
“At the same time, the gas and dust in the circumplanetary disc can collide several times to form larger bodies, eventually leading to the birth of moons,” ESO noted, albeit these processes are yet unknown.
According to ESO Research Fellow Stefano Facchini, the PDS system “provides us with a unique opportunity to view and analyse the processes of planet and satellite formation.”