Science

This is the first time we've ever seen a newborn planet

Astronomers have captured the first confirmed image of a newborn planet, forming around a young dwarf star 370 light years away.

The planet, now known as PDS 70b, is shown orbiting within a huge spinning "protoplanetary disc" of gas and dust, which proves it is continuing to accumulate matter, and so is not yet fully formed.

This latest cornograph (an image that blocks the light of a star to make its surroundings visible) depicts the new planet clearly as a bright blob beside the black star.

Astronomers from the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy used a very large telescope in the Atacama Desert in Chile called the Very Large Telescope (honestly) provided by the European Southern Observatory - the European Space Agency's base in the Southern Hemisphere.

Named PDS 70b, the planet is orbiting the central star at a distance of around three billion kilometres - similar to where Uranus is in our galaxy.

The planet takes approximately 120 years to orbit its star, the researchers added in the research paper that detailed their findings. In the past, astronomers have caught glimpses of what may have been new planets forming, but until now it had been impossible to tell whether such images just showed shapes in the dust or the beginnings of true planet formation.

SPHERE also allowed the scientists to study many of PDS 70b's properties by "measuring the brightness of planet at different wavelengths".

"The problem is that until now, most of these planet candidates could just have been features in the disc", explained Dr Keppler, who lead the team behind the discovery of the planet. A very simplified version of that theory goes something like this: Smaller clouds of gas and dust fall apart within a larger cloud, called a nebula.

"Keppler's results give us a new window onto the complex and poorly understood early stages of planetary evolution", André Müller, lead author of the second study, said in the same statement.

They also deduced that it has a cloudy atmosphere. This is the first time they've actually been able to detect a separate baby planet. Thomas Henning, director at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy and leader of the teams, said in a statement.



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