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Dutch Astronomers Discover Possible 'Toddler Planet' By Accident

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Astronomers accidentally found a planet while examining the dust disc of the binary CS Cha, which is located in the southern constellation Chameleon.

Study Of CS Cha Leads To Discovery Of Toddler Planet

The group of international astronomers, headed by Dutch researchers from Leiden University, stumbled upon the small companion using the SPHERE instrument attached to the European Very Large Telescope in northern Chile. They were studying CS Cha, which is about 600 light years away from Earth, to search for planets in the making and a dust disc when they made the discovery.

They spotted a dot at the edge of their images, which upon further inspection turned out to be a planet. As the double star is fairly young at two to three million years old, the small companion is likewise young as well. According to the scientists, it is still in its toddler years and it might still be growing.

Upon the discovery of the toddler planet, the researchers dived into the archives and found the dot as expected, although it looks fainter in the photos. They also found it on 19-year-old photographs from the Hubble Space Telescope and also on 11-year-old photos from the Very Large Telescope.

The dot's presence in these photographs confirms that the companion is indeed moving with the binary.

What We Currently Know About The Small Companion

With the current planet-forming models, the researchers were unable to learn what the small companion looks like and how it came to be. For all they know, it could be a small brown dwarf star or it may as well be a super-Jupiter.

The scientists, however, have observed a few things about the toddler planet.

"The most exciting part is that the light of the companion is highly polarized," explained Christian Ginski, lead author of the study.

"Such a preference in the direction of polarization usually occurs when light is scattered along the way. We suspect that the companion is surrounded by his own dust disc. 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."

The researchers plan to study the CS Cha and its small companion in more detail in the future. They plan to use the international ALMA telescope in San Pedro de Atacama, Antofagasta Region, Chile. Until then, there is little information to be obtained about the toddler planet.

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