Saturday, 22 September, 2018

Astronomers report 1st image of baby planet being formed

Astronomers report 1st image of baby planet being formed Astronomers report 1st image of baby planet being formed
Theresa Hayes | 04 July, 2018, 20:31

The stunning images, taken using the European Southern Observatory's (ESO's) Very Large Telescope, offer an unprecedented view of the formation of planets.

Two worldwide teams of astronomers announced on Monday that the planet hunting SPHERE instrument on ESOsVery Large Telescope – the world's most advanced visible light astronomical observatory - has captured the first confirmed image of a newly forming planet. "The problem is that until now, most of these planet candidates could just have been features in the disk".

The baby planet has a mass several times that of Jupiter, which is the biggest planet orbiting our Sun.

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". "The exciting fact of our discovery is that we have here an exceptionally robust detection of a young planet, still embedded in such a disk". Spectral analysis of the planet tells researchers that it's a gas giant a few times more massive than Jupiter, with a cloudy atmosphere and a scalding surface temperature of about 1,000° C (1,832° F).

Researchers have always been on the hunt for a baby planet, and this is the first confirmed discovery of its kind. But they've never documented a planet as it was forming.

The researchers not only captured the direct image of the planet, but were even able to obtain its spectrum. We're way, way past the adorable infant stage for our planet.

"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.

The proto-planetary disc and PDS 70b were studied over the course of two survey programmes, one aimed at imaging 600 young nearby stars in the near-infrared using high-contrast and high-angular resolution and another focused on studying known circumstellar disks to learn more about the initial conditions of planetary formation. That blob is a coronagraph - a mask that researchers apply directly onto the star, lest its light blocks out everything else in the image. The planet was found in a gap in this disk, which means it is close to where it was born and still growing by accumulating material from the disk.

Image: The Very Large Telescope complex in Chile. This leaves only those that do apparently move - making the planet visible.