For the first time ever, a team of astronomers has directly observed a planet in the process of being born.
The accumulation of dust and gas particles onto a new planet, the process by which the planet continues to form and grow, has been directly observed for the first time by the scientists in Australia and the United States.
None of the nearly 1,900 planets previously discovered and confirmed outside our Solar System (called exoplanets) are in the process of formation.
A star known as LkCa 15, located 450 light years from Earth, has been observed exhibiting all the trappings of an expectant parent: it is surrounded by a vast disc of dust and gas, making an ideal environment for planets to grow from; the dust shows distinct signs of disturbance - something within has eaten away part of the disc.
Co-author Peter Tuthill from the University of Sydney said the images provided unambiguous evidence. The difficulty had been that when you have indirect evidence, there are always alternate explanations that might fit the data.
The study is published in Nature.