Wednesday, 19 September, 2018

Astronomers Capture the First Image of a Planet Being Born

Theresa Hayes | 03 July, 2018, 01:57

Astronomers have captured this image of a planet that's still forming in the disk of gas and dust around its star. The young planet is carving a path through the primordial disc of gas and dust around the very young star PDS 70.

This latest cornograph (an image that blocks the light of a star to make its surroundings visible) depicts the new planet clearly as a bright blob beside the black star.

Getting this data is not easy: it requires using the ground-based "VLT" (short for "Very Large Telescope") perched on a mountaintop in Chile and using "SPHERE", a specialized planet-finding instrument, which has been used for three years. The planet is much hotter than anything in our solar system, too, with a surface temperature of around 1,000 degrees Celsius. The planet is about 1.9 billion miles away from its star, which is roughly the same distance between Uranus and our Sun.

Researchers have always been on the hunt for a baby planet, and this is the first confirmed discovery of its kind.

The astronomy team that captured the new image was led a group from the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, Germany.

"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.

The observations revealed the presence of a newborn gas giant in PDS 70's surrounding protoplanetary disk. The results of the research will be shared in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics [PDF].

"We needed to observe a planet in a young star's disc to really understand the processes behind planet formation", said André Müller, one of the authors of a second study looking at the planet. Using a powerful planet-hunting instrument on the telescope called SPHERE, an global team of scientists was able to study the newborn planet at a crucial point in its development. This is the first time they've actually been able to detect a separate baby planet.

Thanks to the discovery, researchers are now confident that they can test their theories on how planets are formed. Thomas Henning, director at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy said in the statement.