The first photo of its kind shows a newborn planet that is taking shape 370 light years from Earth. Gas and dust surround it, and the image is the first confirmation of a young exoplanet being directly observed.
The planet was spotted around a young star called PDS70. The center of the image contains a black circle to block the light from the star so that more features around the system can be seen.
Astronomer Miriam Keppler and her team at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Germany researched the newborn planet. They wrote their observations in a study published in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics.
A Direct Image of the Planet’s “Birthplace”
“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 Keppler. She added that until recently, observing a newborn planet was difficult, but they got around it with many observing instruments:
The problem is that until now, most of these planet candidates could just have been features in the disc. The advantage of our detection is that we have detected [the new planet] with several different observing instruments, different filter bands and different years.”
The newborn planet was seen at the Very Large Telescope at the European Southern Observatory, with the help of an instrument called “Sphere.” It saw a gas giant bigger than Jupiter, and at a distance of its sun as Uranus is from our Sun. More analysis showed that the baby gas giant has a temperature at the surface of 1000 C and that it is surrounded by a cloudy atmosphere.
Keppler explains why this discovery is so important:
“We now have a direct image in its “birthplace,” which is the circumstellar disc. This is especially important because people have been wondering, how these planets actually form and how the dust and the material in this disc forms a planet, and now we can directly observe this.”
She added that the star that the baby planet orbits is very young, probably younger than six million years old.
The next task for astronomers, said Keppler, is to continue their observations and see how the planet develops – if the disc gathers more material and which is the orbit around the star. Now, they think that it might take the planet 120 years to complete its orbit.
Andre Blair s is the lead editor for Advocator.ca. He holds a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Toronto, and a Master of Science in Public Health (M.S.P.H.) from the School of Public Health, Department of Health Administration, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Andre specializes in environmental health, but writes on a variety of issues.