It’s a giant exoplanet, dubbed MWC 758c. And it is causing some unusual figures in space, at least for that kind of celestial bodies. It became the planet that forms spirals.
Depictions of the Milky Way show a coiled pattern of spiraling ‘arms’. There are similar patterns in the swirling clouds of gas and dust surrounding some young stars. It was long thought that the spiral arms would be caused by nascent planets. But until now none had been detected.
Spirals and planets
“There is strong evidence that these spiral arms are caused by giant planets,” Kevin Wagner said in a statement. He is lead author of the study. “The James Webb Telescope will test this idea by searching for more planets like this one.”
The planet’s star is about 500 light-years from Earth and is only a few million years old. It is embryonic compared to our own 4.6 billion-year-old sun. It takes about 10 million years for the circling debris to be ejected from the system. “This system would be like our solar system was at the beginning of its lifetime,” Wagner said. “Jupiter, being a giant planet, probably interacted as well. It gravitationally sculpted our own disk billions of years ago. And it eventually led to the formation of Earth.”
“The spiral arms can provide insights into the process of planet formation,” Wagner said. Giant planets form early on, accreting mass from their birth environment. They gravitationally alter the subsequent environment so that other, smaller planets form.”
Researchers were finally able to detect the spiral-forming planet using the Large Binocular Telescope, or LBTI. It can observe at longer wavelengths in the mid-infrared range. It has a camera that can detect infrared light in a manner similar to NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope.
LBTI is among the most sensitive infrared telescopes ever built and, because of its larger size, can even outperform JWST in detecting planets very close to their stars, such as MWC 758c.