Scientist have captured the spectacular moment a moon is born in what is believed to be a world-first.
A picture from the ALMA Observatory in Chile shows a red disk of dust surrounding a planet some 370 light years away.
The circle of gas and dust, known as circumplanetary disk, is of an identical structure to that believed to have given birth to Jupiter’s moons.
The image from space came about as scientists used an array of radio telescopes to observe the PDS 70 c planet, a still-forming gas giant orbiting the PDS 70 star.
“It’s quite possible there might be planet-size moons in formation around it,” study leader Andrea Isella of Rice University says in a statement .
“Planets form from disks of gas and dust around newly forming stars, and if a planet is large enough, it can form its own disk as it gathers material in its orbit around the star.
“Jupiter and its moons are a little planetary system within our solar system, for example, and it’s believed Jupiter’s moons formed from a circumplanetary disk when Jupiter was very young.”
PDS 70 is a dwarf star three-quarters the mass of the sun and which was first revealed through visible light images last month.
Both of its planets are between 5-10 times the size of Jupiter.
Despite its size it is nonetheless believed it could have its own giant-moon forming disks.
Stanford University’s Bruce Macintosh said of the observation: “It’s certainly plausible that giant planets could have giant moon-forming disks around them.”
He added “it’s an intriguing and quite possible result,” National Geographic reports.
The sighting has been hailed as a significant milestone in astronomy as circumplanetary disks are known to only last 10 million years before fizzling out, meaning it has been more than 4 billion years since one has existed in our solar system.