New baby planet image captured

Pablo Tucker
July 3, 2018

Despite the fact that it can take ages for a planet to fully form, actually capturing the process of planet formation has proven to be incredibly hard. It shows a planet, dubbed PDS 70b, taking shape in the disc of gas and star dust surrounding the young dwarf star PDS 70.

To even be able to see the new planet, the telescope had to first block out the bright light of the central star itself.

Operated by the European Southern Observatory (ESO), the telescope has one of the most sophisticated planet-hunting instruments in existence, known as SPHERE. "This detection.tells us that in a time of only few million years (the star's age is five to six million years), planets can grow to a mass of several Jupiter masses", Keppler said. But PDS 70b is far from an icy space outpost: its surface temperature is a scorching 1832 degrees Fahrenheit.

"These disks around young stars are the birthplaces of planets, but so far only a handful of observations have detected hints of baby planets in them", lead researcher Miriam Keppler said in a statement released with the new image. The planet is about 1.9 billion miles away from its star, which is roughly the same distance between Uranus and our Sun.

The new image suggests the newborn planet has created sizable gaps in the protoplanetary disk. Data compiled by SPHERE also allowed the researchers to deduce that the planet's atmosphere is cloudy. The results of the research will be shared in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics [PDF].

This image shows the sky around the faint orange dwarf star PDS 70 (in the middle of the image).

'The problem is that until now, most of these planet candidates could just have been features in the disc'.

Thanks to the discovery, researchers are now confident that they can test their theories on how planets are formed. Using a powerful planet-hunting instrument on the telescope called SPHERE, an worldwide team of scientists was able to study the newborn planet at a crucial point in its development.

"We needed to observe a planet in a young star's disc to really understand the processes behind planet formation".

The image is the first confirmed direct observation of such a young exoplanet, discovery team members said.

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