Are moons forming around this distant gas giant planet? | 7/21/2019 | Paul Scott Anderson
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Composite image of a disk around the young star PDS 70, 370 light-years away. The system’s 2 planets are marked. Astronomers have found that the young planet designated PDS 70 c has a circumplanetary disk, a possible birthplace of exomoons. Image via ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)/A. Isella/ESO.

It’s well-known that planets are born in circumstellar disks of gas and dust that surround young stars, and many of these have been observed by astronomers. Likewise, moons are thought to form in similar disks surrounding planets, but these have been more difficult to find. This month (July 11, 2019), astronomers announced the discovery of just such a disk surrounding a young gas giant planet in the PDS 70 star system, 370 light-years away. It’s the first-ever observation of the kind of circumplanetary disk that is believed to have given birth to the moons of Jupiter in our solar system more than 4 billion years ago.

Discovery - Paper - Astrophysical - Journal - Letters

The peer-reviewed discovery paper was published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters on July 11.

Scientists think it is similar to the kind of disk that once surrounded Jupiter and gave birth to its many moons because it surrounds a still-developing young gas giant planet, called PDS 70 c. As astronomer Andrea Isella from Rice University explained:

Planets - Disks - Gas - Dust - Stars

Planets form from disks of gas and dust around newly forming stars, and if a planet is large enough, it can form its own disk as it gathers material in its orbit around the star. Jupiter and its moons are a little planetary system within our solar system, for example, and it’s believed Jupiter’s moons formed from a circumplanetary disk when Jupiter was very young.

As Isella also noted in an article for the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO):

Time - Signs - Disk

For the first time, we can conclusively see the telltale signs of a circumplanetary disk, which helps to support many...
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