May 8 (UPI) — Scientists have found what they believe to be an infant planet orbiting the young double star CS Cha, located 600 light-years from Earth.
Astronomers used the European Very Large Telescope’s SPHERE instrument to analyze CS Cha, found in the constellation Chameleon. Scientists were expecting to find a dust disk or protoplanets. Instead, the VLT images revealed a small companion planet.
After finding the companion, researchers examined the archives for additional evidence of the young planet. Sure enough, in 19-year-old Hubble Space Telescope images and 11-year-old Very Large Telescope photos, astronomers found the same glowing dot, only fainter.
Scientists aren’t sure how the companion formed or evolved. The research ran a variety of scenarios through their computer models, but none of them yielded reliable results. Astronomers believe the companion is most likely a small brown dwarf star or a super-Jupiter.
“The most exciting part is that the light of the companion is highly polarized,” Christian Ginski, an astronomer at Leiden University, said in a news release. “Such a preference in the direction of polarization usually occurs when light is scattered along the way.”
Researchers predict the polarization is caused by a dust disk that surrounds the companion.
“The tricky part is that the disc blocks a large part of the light and that is why we can hardly determine the mass of the companion,” Ginski said. “So it could be a brown dwarf but also a super-Jupiter in his toddler years. The classical planet-forming-models can’t help us.”
Additional observations could help, though. Astronomers hope follow-up surveys using the ALMA telescope will offer additional insights into the companion’s origins.
Researchers published their work online this week. The paper is scheduled to be published in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics.