Published: Thu, July 05, 2018
Sci-tech | By Patricia Wade

Planet’s birth captured on camera for the first time

Planet’s birth captured on camera for the first time

A planet-hunting instrument has captured the first confirmed image of a newborn planet that's still forming in our galaxy. The scientists employed a coronagraph so as to obstruct the blazing star's light to watch the planet and the disc.

It's carving out a path through the disk around the star, which is in the Centaurus constellation. However, despite years of searching, astronomers have so-far failed to directly image a planet forming within one of these hot and chaotic disks.

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.

'And while we look at tiny, pristine meteorites in the lab at the Museum, astronomers are examining much bigger things outside the lab: young stars and planets like the one in this photo.

How can the astronomers be sure that their discovery is real?

"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".

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

The research team was led by a group at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, Germany.

This spectacular image from the SPHERE instrument on ESO's Very Large Telescope is the first clear image of a planet caught in the very act of formation around the dwarf star PDS 70.

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. This means that the atmosphere around it is cloudy and the surface temperature can reach 1,000 degrees Celsius (which means 1,832 degrees Fahrenheit). This star bud is clearly visible in this image obtained by SPHERE: a luminous point, to the right of the center of the image, where the star is masked by the coronagraph. Nearly the distance between Uranus and the Sun. Its orbit around its star takes 120 Earth years.

Directly imaging the planet is a game-changer. "This is especially important because people have been wondering [for a long time], how these planets actually form and how the dust and the material in this disc forms [into] a planet, and now we can directly observe this".

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