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North Texas Astronomers May Be Watching Birth Of A Planet

NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) - Astronomers say they may have spotted a new planet being born.

The so-called protoplanet has been spotted, not in our solar system, but in the Milky Way.

Data on the discovery was published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

University of North Texas Astronomer Ron Dilulio said the action is happening in an area 335 light years away, and given the distance scientists aren't seeing things in the present. "You could be seeing history, but at this particular moment that could be a planet very much like our Earth and they're actually developed like we are at this point," he explained. "We are looking into the past and in this case we are able to maybe help us make a determination on how planets are formed; planets like our Earth and others."

This protoplanet is no 'baby,' it's about the size of Jupiter and is rotating in the disc surrounding a young star.

Currently scientists base their theories on planet formation by looking at our own solar system. "There are actually a couple major theories on how planets form and some of them suggest that the dust kind of just came together by magnetism and they formed other objects," Dilulio said. "We've got an opportunity now to see an example of one of the theories perhaps."

The protoplanet candidate orbits about 70 times further from its star than Earth does from the Sun. The idea of learning more about solar systems and planet formation is one UNT students have undertaken for some time.  "We have an exoplanet search team that on all possible nights, we scan for targets almost everyday to see what might be available."

Learning more about the protoplanet won't be fast or easy. Especially considering, if the 'birthday' of this protoplanet is correct, it would take tens of millennia for the planet to mature to even an infantile state.

Dilulio said, "You're looking a tens and thousands, thousands of years [of development]. It's something we probably will never experience. We won't see it as it becomes a planet."

Researchers still need to verify that the object being studied is an actual forming planet. Scientists say there's a chance the object is actually being ejected from its solar system and not being born into it.

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