Astronomers catch first images of a newborn planet

The birth of a planet is an exciting phenomenon that astronomers have always found difficult to observe and capture. However that is no longer a problem since they have finally done just that. The image shows a bright blob, which is the nascent planet-moving through the gas and dust that surrounded the budding star. The star is known as PDS70 and is believed to be about 370 light years away from earth.

If you look in the center of the image, the black circle you see is a filter that blocks the light from the new star and helps to make the other features to be viewable. The image was captured by the Sphere instrument of the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope. On site, the planet looks like it will be a gas giant (like Jupiter) but with a greater mass. It sits as far from its own star as Uranus sits from our sun. The new planet appears to have a surface temperature of 1000C and a cloudy atmosphere.

“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,” said Miriam Keppler of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Germany, a lead author of the research published in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics. However, other ground-based observations have not yielded conclusive evidence.

“The problem is that until now, most of these planet candidates could just have been features in the disc,” she said. “The advantage of our detection is that we have detected [the new planet] with several different observing instruments, different filter bands and different years,” she added.

In years previous, the Kepler Telescope was able to identify young plants, but it has limits to it capabilities because it relies on the star’s lights dimming so the telescope can see the planet moving in front if its view. According to Kepler, what makes the star special is that astronomers can directly image it, whereas they couldn’t before because their previous techniques for imaging new planets used indirect techniques. Being able to view the new planet in its place of birth is important because until now, it was a wonder how the planets actually formed from dust and materials. Now astronomers can see for themselves.

This particular new planet was born to a star that also young, in that it is only five or six million years old, meaning that the planet could be even younger than that. For now, astronomers will have to keep observing the development of the new planet as well as tracing its orbit around the star. Astronomers will also want to observe to see if the star has any neighbors. While the big gas giant is the easiest to see, there may be other planets of different makeups surrounding it. Who knows, perhaps a new solar system is coming into play. Either way, this new image will keep astronomers busy for a few decades trying to figure it out.


Image source:  European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope is the first clear image of a planet caught in the act of formation. Photograph: ESO/A Müller et al



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