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

See how a planet is born

See how a planet is born

It's carving out a path through the disk around the star, which is in the Centaurus constellation. Transitional disks roughly resemble a stadium, with a clean area in the middle (from which planets drew their matter), surrounded by a ring of dust and gas. 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.

The bright point to the right of the image center is planet PDS 70b.

Image credits Müller et al., 2018, A&A.

The image was produced by an advanced piece of equipment within the Very Large Telescope array at the European Southern Observatory's facility in northern Chile.

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

The discovery by two teams of researchers is detailed in two papers published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics on Monday.

"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", says coauthor Miriam Keppler, who led the team behind the discovery of the still-forming planet.

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"Keppler's results give us a new window onto the comple and poorly-understood early stages of planetary evolution", said André Müller, a postdoctoral researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy and leader of the second team to investigate the new planet.

Despite the fact that it can take ages for a planet to fully form, actually capturing the process of planet formation has proven to be incredibly hard.

The telescope's SPHERE instrument was able to observe the exoplanet at multiple wavelengths, revealing the young planet's atmosphere. After the starlight is blocked (using a coronagraph), SPHERE employs data processing to weed out the signal of the faint planetary companions. The surface temperature is now a steamy 1000 degrees Celsius (1832 degrees F).

The baby planet has a mass several times that of Jupiter, which is the biggest planet orbiting our Sun. Without the mask, or coronagraph, the star's light would overwhelm the light from the planet.

The worldwide team of researchers made the robust detection of the young planet, named PDS 70b, cleaving a path through the planet-forming material surrounding a young star.

Directly imaging the planet is a game-changer.

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