The young star AB Aurigae floats in a part of space dubbed a "stellar nursery", meaning a region of intensive star formation.
Building on preliminary observations from the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) that spotted two spiral arms of gas close to AB Aurigae, for the past year the ESO team probed deeper using the VLT's Spectro-Polarimetric High-contrast Exoplanet REsearch (SPHERE) instrument, which uses extreme adaptive optics to look at exoplanets and similar phenomena.
The new study was published online today (May 20) in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.
If that is the case, it could be the first direct evidence of a planet coming into existence.
It's believed planets are born when discs of cold gas and dust clump together, creating a "swirling motion".
The European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile has captured an image of a planet being born around the young star AB Aurigae, which lies 520 light-years from Earth in the constellation Auriga (The Charioteer).
"We need to observe very young systems to really capture the moment when planets form", he said.
Wide-field view of the region of the sky where AB Aurigae is located.
Wide-field view of the region of the sky where AB Aurigae is located. Image ESO Digitised Sky Survey 2. Acknowledgement Davide De Martin
It's also believed to be responsible for the shape of spiral galaxies and interactions between Saturn's moons and rings, but in this case it's important because it indicates a crucial sign in planet formation.
In 2019, the team activated the SPHERE instrument on the telescope located in Chile, allowing them to see the fainter light from small dust grans and emissions coming from the inner disc. The research team, made up of astronomers from France, Taiwan, the USA and Belgium, said the images are the deepest observations of the AB Aurigae system made to date.
Until now astronomers had been unable to take clear images of young discs to see these twists. Astronomers spotted a prominent spiral structure with a "twist" within the dust.
"They allow gas and dust from the disc to accrete on to the forming planet and make it grow".
"The twist is expected from some theoretical models of planet formation", study co-author Anne Dutrey, of the Astrophysics Laboratory of Bordeaux in France, said in a statement.
'It corresponds to the connection of two spirals-one winding inwards of the planet's orbit, the other expanding outwards-which join at the planet location.
New Zealanders are leading the charge with Rocket Lab, as Nasa prepares to return to the Moon.
"Thousands of exoplanets have been identified so far, but little is known about how they form", Anthony Boccaletti, an astronomer at the Observatoire de Paris in France and the lead author of a new study detailing the discovery, said in a statement.