Astronomers report 1st image of baby planet being formed

05 July, 2018, 16:31 | Author: Tara Reeves
  • The VLT in the Atacama overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Pic ESO

Astronomers from the Max Planck Institute in Heidelberg, Germany recently captured a series of noteworthy images utilising the Very Large Telescope (yes, real name) at the European Southern Observatory (ESO) in Chile to witness and photograph the birth of a planet.

Young planets have also previously been identified using the orbiting Kepler telescope.

The new planet is named PDS 70b because it was caught forming a dusty disc around a star called PDS 70. The planet stands clearly out, visible as a bright point to the right of the center of the image, which is blacked out by the coronagraph mask used to block the blinding light of the central star.

Credit: European Southern Observatory/ESO/A. Muller Et Al. This, in turn, enables scientists to test theoretical models of planet formation. In the image, the planet is shown to the right of the dark center of the image as a bright point, said astronomers. The planet circles its parent star, PDS 70, at a distance of about 3.3 billion kilometres (2 billion miles), taking 120 years to complete one orbit. Without this mask the faint glow of the planet would be completely indistinguishable against the bright lights of the star PDS 70.

Keppler led the discovery of the baby exoplanet, dubbed PDS 70b, which has been described in a paper published today in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

The analysis of the spectrum indicated that the planet's atmosphere is cloudy.

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The new image suggests the newborn planet has created sizable gaps in the protoplanetary disk. What makes this discovery so interesting is that it's the first time that scientists have managed to spot such a young planet with utter certainty.

"The results of observations gave answers to complex questions regarding the birth of planets and their evolution", commented astronomer andré müller from the Institute of astronomy.

"We needed to observe a planet in a young star's disc to really understand the processes behind planet formation", he explains.

Keppler's team was also able to measure the brightness of the young planet and to estimate more about its physical characteristics.

The star's light was blocked with a tool called a coronagraph, which allowed astronomers to see the much fainter planet.

The observation was made as part of two survey programs, SHINE and DISK, both of which are using the SPHERE instrument to study young stars. In fact, it was a secondary team that captured the remarkable image.

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