Scientists capture first ever image of newborn planet

Katie Ramirez
July 3, 2018

The planet, dubbed PDS 70b, was detected by an worldwide team using the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope in Chile and its planet-hunting instrument, called SPHERE.

In a remarkable image, the young planet is clearly visible, standing out as a distinctive bright spot just to the right of PDS 70, which is blocked out by a mask.

Miriam Kepler of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Germany said hints of baby planets have been detected before, but astronomers were not sure whether those observations might simply be features in the swirling dust. The planet is much hotter than anything in our solar system, too, with a surface temperature of around 1,000 degrees Celsius. The team's results will appear in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

Researchers have long suspected the existence of the planet in orbit around the star PDS 70, but now they have the proof.

The planet, "PDS 70b" is a gigantic body of gas, with several times more mass than Jupiter, in a lonely rotation 3 billion miles from the star it rotates. What makes SPHERE stand out in the field of exoplanet exploration is that, unlike the majority of its contenders, it relies on direct imaging - SPHERE takes actual photographs of planets millions or billions of kilometers away.

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The SPHERE instrument also enabled the team to measure the brightness of the planet at different wavelengths, which allowed properties of its atmosphere to be deduced.

"The problem is that until now, most of these planet candidates could just have been features in the disc", explained Dr Keppler, who lead the team behind the discovery of the planet.

In the images, the newborn planet rips through the material surrounding the star. Instead, the researchers used a coronagraph to block the bright light of the star in order to look at the disk and the planet. The theory was that it was created by the interaction between the formation of a new planet and the disc itself. They not only made the spectacularly clear image of the planet shown here, but were even able to obtain a spectrum of the planet. It's about as far from its host star as Uranus is to the Sun. Now we can see the planet for the first time.

All this data helps flesh out our understanding of the early stages of planetary evolution - which are quite complex and, up to now, "poorly-understood", according to André Müller, leader of the second team to investigate the young planet.

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