Astronomers Believe They Have First Image of Newborn Planet

Astronomers Believe They Have First Image of Newborn Planet

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.

The startling snapshot shows a bright blob - the nascent planet - travelling through the dust and gas surrounding a young star, known as PDS70, thought to be about 370 light years from Earth. That is necessary for observation, because stars shine shines so brightly that dimmer sources of light - such as starlight reflected from the surface of planets - can not otherwise be observed. This is at least a few times the mass of Jupiter, the largest gas giant in our solar system, and well above the highest temperature recorded on any planet in our solar system.

The new planet is named PDS 70b because it was caught forming a dusty disc around a star called PDS 70.

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

It is located roughly three billion kilometers from the central star, roughly equivalent to the distance between Uranus and the Sun. It takes the planet 120 years to orbit the star, which fits with astronomers' predictions that gas giants would need to form quite far from their stars. They not only made the spectacularly clear image of the planet shown here, but were even able to obtain a spectrum of the planet.

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In the above image, the dark area at the center is due to a coronograph, ESO said, a mask that "blocks the blinding light of the central star and allows astronomers to detect its much fainter disc and planetary companion".

"After this exciting discovery, I hope many more detections of [this] kind of planets will come in the future, enabling us to get a statistical view on the properties of young, forming planets", Keppler added. The planet is blanketed in thick clouds, the team explained, and its surface is now revolving around a crisp 1000°C (1832°F), which is much hotter than any planet in the Solar System.

The discovery of PDS 70b is a significant event for astronomers, and subsequent teams of researchers are already following up on the initial research.

André Müller, who is also with the Max Planck Institute and led the second team, said that Keppler's results give "us a new window onto the complex and poorly-understood early stages of planetary evolution".

The telescope's SPHERE instrument was able to observe the exoplanet at multiple wavelengths, revealing the young planet's atmosphere.

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