For the first time, scientists are observing the formation of a moon in another solar system.

Building a moon is not an easy task. First, a planet must be massive enough to sweep through the passing space debris (dust here, gas there, maybe asteroids) and finally let it freeze into a celestial body.


Among astronomers, this was at least the operative theory of moon formation. But remarkably, until recently, scientists had never seen a region of moon formation (also known as the circumplanetary disk) anywhere outside our solar system. However, with the publication of a new study In the journal Astrophysical Journal LettersThis is no longer the case.

With enough gas and dust to create three moons the size of the one orbiting the Earth, the newly discovered giant circumplanetary disk is about 500 times larger than Saturn's rings. Orbiting a planet called PDS 70c, the disk could provide scientists with new information about the formation of satellites (the scientific term for objects like moons).

"Our work presents a clear detection of a disk in which satellites could form," said Myriam Benisty, lead author of the paper and researcher at the University of Grenoble, France, and the University of Chile, added in the same statement. Using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) telescope, based at the European Southern Observatory (ESO) in Chile, the researchers observed the disk "with such an exquisite resolution that we were able to clearly identify that the disk is associated with the planet and we can limit its size for the first time."

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"More than 4,000 exoplanets have been discovered so far, but they have all been detected in mature systems," said Miriam Keppler, co-author of the study and a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy. said in a statement. "As for the PDS 70c and its counterpart, the PDS 70b", they form a system reminiscent of the Jupiter-Saturn pair " and " are the only two exoplanets detected to date that are still information ".

This planetary brother, PDS 70b, offers a glimpse of another way this discovery can help scientists. In addition to helping us understand how moons form, the fact that both planets are very young means that we could learn more by observing their activities. Scientists have various theories about how planets may have formed, and observing the circumplanetary disk could help scientists learn more about the early lives of planets, just as it could teach us more about the origins of moons.

"These new observations are also extremely important for testing planet formation theories that have not been tested so far," Jaehan Bae, another co-author, and astronomer at the Carnegie Institution for Science said in the statement.

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