Published: Tue, July 03, 2018
Sci-tech | By Patricia Wade

Astronomers captured the first image of a baby planet


An global team of astronomers has released the first image ever captured of a planet being born in deep space.

Young dwarf star PDS 70 is less than 10 million years old, and its planetary companion is thought to be between five and six million years old.

Operated by the European Southern Observatory (ESO), the telescope has one of the most sophisticated planet-hunting instruments in existence, known as SPHERE.

The planet, "PDS 70b" is a huge body of gas, with several times more mass than Jupiter, in a lonely rotation 3 billion miles from the star it rotates. The planet is much hotter than anything in our solar system, too, with a surface temperature of around 1,000 degrees Celsius.

"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 research leader Miriam Keppler.

Researchers have always been on the hunt for a baby planet, and this is the first confirmed discovery of its kind. In the past, astronomers have caught glimpses of what may have been new planets forming, but until now it had been impossible to tell whether such images just showed shapes in the dust or the beginnings of true planet formation.

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This image shows the sky around the faint orange dwarf star PDS 70 (in the middle of the image). Using a powerful planet-hunting instrument on the telescope called SPHERE, an worldwide team of scientists was able to study the newborn planet at a crucial point in its development.

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

The researchers report the discovery of PDS 70b and its measured and inferred characteristics in a pair of new studies, both of which were published online today (July 2) in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

The telescope's SPHERE instrument was able to observe the exoplanet at multiple wavelengths, revealing the young planet's atmosphere. That's about the distance between Uranus and our Sun.

"After more than a decade of enormous efforts to build this high-tech machine, now SPHERE enables us to reap the harvest with the discovery of baby planets!"

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