Astronomers will be paying careful attention to the celestial serpent this month. They’re looking for a newly forming star in its coils to grow brighter. If it does, that could mean the future star is being orbited by a future planet.
The system is known as EC53. It’s in the eastern half of the constellation Serpens, which rises to the left of the Moon late tonight.
Astronomers can’t see the future star directly — it’s wrapped inside a cocoon of gas and dust. But it heats the cocoon, causing it to glow at wavelengths that aren’t visible to the eye. Astronomers watch those wavelengths with special telescopes. That helps them understand what’s happening inside the cocoon.
They know, for example, that as material falls toward the star, it first forms a wide disk. Some of its gas and dust then will fall onto the star, while some may stick together to form planets. And that may be what’s happening in EC53.
Astronomers recently saw a change in the system’s light at submillimeter wavelengths — a type of radio waves. That could be caused by a clump of material in the disk that’s forming a planet. Its gravity could regulate the amount of material that falls onto the embryonic star, changing how much energy it produces. And that could change the glow of the surrounding cocoon.
If their model is correct, the astronomers expect the system to brighten again this month — confirming that a new planet is taking shape around a new star.
Script by Damond Benningfield