Astronomers Found a Moon-Forming Disc Around an Exoplanet 400 Light-Year Away

You've probably seen images of circumplanetary disc - or ring of matter that orbit a planet - on the cover of imaginative sci-fi novels before, but astronomers have finally captured the first image of such actual disc around a planet outside of our solar system.

Using the Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile, astronomer Myriam Benisty and colleagues observed a disc surrounding the exoplanet PDS 70c, a giant Jupiter-like planet orbiting a star 400 light-years away.

"Our ALMA observations were obtained at such exquisite resolution that we could clearly identify that the disc is associated with the planet and we are able to constrain its size for the first time," Benisty said in a statement by the European Southern Observatory.

Astronomers noted that the disc surrounding PDS 70c is huge: it's about 500 times larger than Saturn's rings.

Circumplanetary discs are thought to play a significant role in the formation of moons and satellites, as its gas and dust come together into progressively larger bodies through multiple collisions, ultimately becoming moons.

Images: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)/Benisty et al.

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Close-up view of the moon-forming disc around PDS 70c. The circumplanetary disc is as large as the distance between the Sun and Earth, and has enough matter to form three satellites the size of the Moon.

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