This image shows EC53 in the Serpens Region of Galaxy, where a group of scientists, including UVic’s Doug Johnstone and his Ph.D. student Steve Mairs, helped discover a likely planet circulating around a proto-star. Courtesy of National Research Council Canada.

This image shows EC53 in the Serpens Region of Galaxy, where a group of scientists, including UVic’s Doug Johnstone and his Ph.D. student Steve Mairs, helped discover a likely planet circulating around a proto-star. Courtesy of National Research Council Canada.

UVic astronomers help discover new planet

An astronomer from the University of Victoria has helped discover an emerging star with a special twinkle.

Doug Johnstone, Research Officer at the National Research Council of Canada, who teaches in Department of Physics and Astronomy, co-led an international team of researchers, who discovered a rare stellar object: a not-yet-full formed star likely orbited by a likely, hidden planet.

Johnstone, who led the team with Greg Herczeg, Professor at Peking University, discovered the phenomenon in the Serpens constellation, using a telescope capable of detecting non-visible, high frequency waves. In fact, Johnstone received a helping hand from his Ph.D. student Steve Mairs.

The star known is EC53 is currently emerging from an inter-stellar nursery, a molecular cloud in inter-stellar space, where gas and dust are contracting to create new stars.

Johnstone said the observed star is a proto-star, not yet generating energy through the process of nuclear fusion that turns hydrogen into helium.

When stars like the observed star of EC53 form, spheres of gas and dust surround them. Some of this material will flatten into a disk from which planets will form. While the surrounding cloud prohibits direct optical observation, researchers can study the study by studying the cloud, which is relatively warm compared to the area outside of it.

Using the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope (JCMT) Transient Survey located in Hawaii, Johnstone, Herczeg, and their supporting team, observed the luminosity of the star dipping at a regular interval of 18 months.

“This variation in the brightness or twinkle of the star EC53 suggests that something large is disrupting the gravitational pull of the forming star,” said Johnstone. “The fact that it recurs every 18 months suggests that this influence is orbiting around the star – it’s quite likely a hidden, forming planet.”

Perhaps the best analogy comes from the world of pastries. The emerging star sits in the middle of a doughnut hole. The accompanying planet circles around the sun at the inner edge of the doughnut ring, and as it circles around the sun, its weight disrupts the rate of material that the sun is “gulping” off the doughnut, changing its brightness along the way.

Johnstone said scientists know nothing about the likely planet that rotates around EC53, nor will they be able to predict its fate.

While scientists have observed variations in the brightness of EC53 before, the use of JCMT allowed the scientists to confirm that some other object — in this case, a likely planet — has impacted the emerging star.

Johnstone, who studies stellar nurseries, said he wasn’t quite sure what to expect his team decided to study EC53. “It was a shot in the dark,” he said.

Johnstone and the other scientists were essentially looking for minute changes, changes that would be very difficult to detect. “It’s like looking for a change a kid over a couple of days,” he said.

But the JCMT delivered on its promise, said Johnstone. To use an analogy, previous technology allowed scientists to take pictures of phenomenon. But the use of sub-millimetre radio astronomy technology is like taking a video, said Johnstone.

This research will help scientists get a better of how star systems emerge. Specifically, it will help them determine in which order stars and planets emerge, and the conditions under which planets survive, as their solar-systems take shape.

Ultimately, this discovery will help humans learn about their own solar-system.

“It gives us a better sense of how we got here,” said Johnstone.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Nikita, a four-year-old German Shepherd that was attacked by a buck in a backyard in Esquimalt Sunday is lucky the injury wasn't more severe. (Photo contributed by Suzette Goldsworthy)
Esquimalt dog owner issues alert after deer injures German shepherd

Nikita needed stitches after an early morning encounter

The Victoria Police Department headquarters. (Black Press Media file photo)
Investigation launched into man’s death after arrest in Victoria

IIO investigation to determine if police actions or inaction played a role in the man’s death

(Black Press Media file photo)
Police arrest man covered in blood on heels of significant Saanich crash into woods

Resident calls in home invasion in progress after crash

Capital Regional District Animal Control say an eight-month-old Rottweiler bit a Langford mother and her child near Glen Lake on Nov. 19. (Black Press Media file photo)
Large dog attacks mother and child in Langford

Mother puts three-year-old on top of car to protect him

Victoria School for Ideal Education at 2820 Belmont Avenue is the second school in Greater Victoria with an active confirmed COVID-19 exposure. (Travis Paterson/News Staff)
Private school becomes second Greater Victoria school with COVID-19 exposure

Victoria School for Ideal Education follows Lakeview Christian School in Saanich

People wearing face masks to help curb the spread of COVID-19 cross a street in downtown Vancouver, on Sunday, November 22, 2020. The use of masks is mandatory in indoor public and retail spaces in the province. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. reports 17 COVID deaths, 1,933 new cases as hospitalizations surge over the weekend

There are 277 people in hospital, of whom 59 are in ICU or critical care

An aerial shot of Cedar Valley Lodge this past August, LNG Canada’s newest accommodation for workers at the project site in Kitimat. This is where several employees are isolating after a COVID-19 outbreak was declared last Thursday (Nov. 19). (Photo courtesy of LNG Canada)
Forty-one positive COVID-19 cases associated with the LNG Canada site outbreak in Kitimat

Thirty-four of the 41 cases remain active, according to Northern Health

Workers arrive at the Lynn Valley Care Centre seniors home, in North Vancouver, B.C., on Saturday, March 14, 2020. It was the site of Canada’s first COVID-19 outbreak in a long-term care facility. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Rapid tests ‘not a panacea’ for care homes, Dr. Bonnie Henry says

B.C. lacks capacity for daily tests of thousands of workers

(Delta Police Department photo)
Cannabis edibles found in Halloween bag lead B.C. police to illegal lab

Delta police arrested a man and a woman while executing a warrant at a residential property Nov. 20

A woman being arrested at a Kelowna Value Village after refusing to wear a mask on Nov. 22.(@Jules50278750/Twitter)
VIDEO: Woman arrested for refusing to wear mask at Kelowna Value Village

RCMP claims the woman was uncooperative with officers, striking them a number of times and screaming

B.C. Liberal MLA Shirley Bond questions NDP government ministers in the B.C. legislature, Feb. 19, 2020. (Hansard TV)
Cabinet veteran Shirley Bond chosen interim leader of B.C. Liberals

28-member opposition prepares for December legislature session

Motorists wait to enter a Fraser Health COVID-19 testing facility, in Surrey, B.C., on Monday, November 9, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
COVID-19: What do rising positivity rates mean for B.C.? It’s not entirely clear

Coronavirus cases are on the rise but the province has not unveiled clear thresholds for further measures

A rider carves a path on Yanks Peak Saturday, Nov. 21. Two men from Prince George went missing on the mountain the next day. One of them, Colin Jalbert, made it back after digging out his sled from four feet under the snow. The other, Mike Harbak, is still missing. Local search and rescue teams went out looking Monday, Nov. 23. (Sam Fait Photo)
‘I could still be the one out there’: Snowmobiler rescued, 1 missing on northern B.C. mountain

As Quesnel search and rescue teams search for the remaining rider, Colin Jalbert is resting at home

Most Read