Scientists finally witness the birth of a planet—and here’s the photo

Scientists finally witness the birth of a planet—and here's the photo
Awww, isn't it cute?
Awww, isn’t it cute?
Image: ESO/A. Müller et al.

For the first time, astronomers captured a clear image of a young planet forming around a star. 

It was captured by the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) in the Atacama Desert in northern Chile. 

You can see the young planet, named PDS 70b, as a bright ball to the right of the center of the photograph above. It’s carving a path through what is known as a protoplanetary disc, the huge collection of gas and dust that surrounds younger stars. 

“These discs around young stars are the birthplaces of planets, but so far only a handful of observations have detected hints of baby planets in them,” Miriam Keppler, an astronomer at the Max Planck Institute of Astronomy (MPIA), which led the study, said in a statement.

Their research will be presented in two papers in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

The researchers were able to filter out the brightness from the planet’s star, PDS 70, with a telescopic attachment called a coronagraph. 

Keppler explained that scientists had long suspected that a young planet was surrounding this dwarf star. They confirmed their suspicions using SPHERE, a planet-hunting instrument on the Very Large Telescope, which continuously takes photos of a star over several hours and then uses complex algorithms to spot surrounding objects. SPHERE also gave scientists information about the young planet’s atmosphere.  

PDS 70b is a gas giant that weighs several times more than Jupiter and takes 120 years to orbit its star. Its surface temperature is nearly 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. 

This finding supports the theory that gas giants like Jupiter have to form farther away from their host star than rocky planets like Earth. 

More than 1,000 exoplanets have been discovered since the 1990s, but astronomers were never able to see the planets forming, according to the European Southern Observatory

Infrared image of the exoplanet and its star

Infrared image of the exoplanet and its star

Image: European Southern Observatory

“After ten years of developing new powerful astronomical instruments such as SPHERE, this discovery shows us that we are finally able to find and study planets at the time of their formation,” MPIA director Thomas Henning said.

Their success could help astronomers spot more baby planets across the galaxy. 

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Author:Rayne Ellis

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