The planet candidate around HD 100546 was detected as a faint blob located in the circumstellar disk revealed thanks to the NACO adaptive optics instrument on ESO’s VLT, combined with pioneering data analysis techniques. The observations were made using a special coronagraph in NACO, which operates at near-infrared wavelengths and suppresses the brilliant light coming from the star at the location of the protoplanet candidate.
According to current theory, giant planets grow by capturing some of the gas and dust that remains after the formation of a star. The astronomers have spotted several features in the new image of the disk around HD 100546 that support this protoplanet hypothesis. Structures in the dusty circumstellar disk, which could be caused by interactions between the planet and the disk, were revealed close to the detected protoplanet. Also, there are indications that the surroundings of the protoplanet are potentially heated up by the formation process.
Adam Amara, another member of the team, is enthusiastic about the finding. “Exoplanet research is one of the most exciting new frontiers in astronomy, and direct imaging of planets is still a new field, greatly benefiting from recent improvements in instruments and data analysis methods,” he said. “In this research, we used data analysis techniques developed for cosmological research, showing that cross-fertilization of ideas between fields can lead to extraordinary progress.”
Although the protoplanet is the most likely explanation for the observations, the results of this study require follow-up observations to confirm the existence of the planet and discard other plausible scenarios. Among other explanations, it is possible, although unlikely, that the detected signal could have come from a background source. It is also possible that the newly detected object might not be a protoplanet, but a fully formed planet that was ejected from its original orbit closer to the star. When the new object around HD 100546 is confirmed to be a forming planet embedded in its parent disk of gas and dust, it will become an unique laboratory in which to study the formation process of a new planetary system.Candidate protoplanet, circumstellar disk, data analysis, HD 100546 <BR/>