For the first time, astronomers have watched planets 'growing'

Astronomers have discovered some 1900 planets outside our solar system, but have never seen one forming – until now.

And you can make it possibly three planets forming at once, out of a disk of gas and dust particles circling a star about 450 light years away in the constellation of Taurus.

If you want to know what that looks like, a NASA artist with a ping-pong table and some glitter handy put this together for you:

Space, or something like it. Picture: NASA/JPL

The discovery was reported in the journal Nature. One of the study’s authors, Professor Peter Tuthill of the University of Sydney, said the team found:

“…a clear case where we can join all of the dots showing how planets are forming by accreting the gas and dust left over from the formation of their star.”

The star at the centre is Lick-Calcium 15 (LkCa 15), and it’s only about two million years old. The team studied it for five years, watching as the planets grabbed material that was otherwise headed for the star.

The process is known as “accretion”.

The largest planet, LkCa 15 b, is a gas giant “a few times more massive” than Jupiter, Prof Tuthill told the ABC.

A second planet, LkCa 15 c, was also detected, but the team will watch to see if indications reveal a third planet forming.

Here’s the video:

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