July 17, 2018

This Is the First Ever Picture of a Newborn Planet

03 July 2018, 07:20 | Edward Lowe

Image This spectacular image from the SPHERE instrument. Pic ESO

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 planet stands clearly out visible as a bright point to the righ

But it has never been seen before - until now.

Scientists said the planet appears as a bright spot in the snapshot taken using the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope in Chile.

PDS 70b is approximately 1.86 billion miles (roughly 3 billion kilometers, or the same distance from Uranus to the Sun) away from the star it orbits, a young dwarf star named PDS 70.

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The planet stands out clearly in the image, visible as a bright point to the right of the blackened centre.

Capturing a planet's birth is exceptionally hard because it's often too far away to see on a telescope.

"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", Miriam Keppler, the lead researcher on the project, explains.

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As it turns out, the planet orbiting PDS 70 has carved out a so-called transition disk, that is, a proto-planetary disc with one or more gaps where planets are in the process of forming. A second team, involving numerous same astronomers as the discovery team, including Keppler, has in the past months followed up the initial observations to investigate PDS 70's fledgling planetary companion in more detail. To that end, the SPHERE system incorporates a coronagraph, which obscures the blinding light of the central star and allows astronomers to detect the much fainter light bouncing off the planet and the spinning disk of coronal materials.

'The problem is that until now, most of these planet candidates could just have been features in the disc'. The surface temperature is now a steamy 1000 degrees Celsius (1832 degrees F). Without the mask, the light from planet would be overhwhelmed by PDS 70.

Because this is the first time we've seen this, it is even more important as it means that we can use PDS 70b as a yardstick against which to measure any further instances.

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"We have never seen a convincing case of a planet around a young star to guide our understanding of planet formation", Thomas Henning, a lead author of the connected paper about PDS 70b, told The Outline in an email. By determining the planet's atmospheric and physical properties, the astronomers are able to test theoretical models of planet formation. But in a recent feat, scientists used an instrument called Sphere to capture it at last - a great win after they had started looking for a possible baby planet in 2012.

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