Wednesday, 14 November, 2018

Scientists capture first ever image of newborn planet

The VLT in the Atacama overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Pic ESO Image The Very Large Telescope complex in Chile. Pic ESO
Frank Williams | 05 July, 2018, 16:32

The proto-planetary disc and PDS 70b were studied over the course of two survey programmes, one aimed at imaging 600 young nearby stars in the near-infrared using high-contrast and high-angular resolution and another focused on studying known circumstellar disks to learn more about the initial conditions of planetary formation.

"PDS 70b, which is found in the large gap of its parental disk, now finally confirms that planets do play an important role in the formation of these gaps", said Keppler, who works at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy.

The baby exoplanet, named PDS 70b after its star, PDS 70, is the bright spot to the right of the black center in the picture shown above.

The planet stands out very clearly in the new observations, visible as a bright point to the right of the blackened centre of the image. The planet is thought to be about 370 light years from Earth.

The fledgling planet is a gas giant, several times the size of Jupiter, in the Centaurus constellation.

Located roughly 3bn km from its central star - equivalent to the distance between Uranus and the sun - the planet is a gas giant with a mass significantly larger than Jupiter and a scorching surface temperature of around 1,000 degrees Celsius.

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This discovery, scientists hope, will give us a brand new view on how planets are actually formed, and develop our understanding of the process.

A team of about 120 scientists worked on the research, published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

By determining the planet's atmospheric and physical properties, the astronomers can test theoretical models of planet arrangement.

They also deduced that it has a cloudy atmosphere.

"The problem is that until now, most of these planet candidates could just have been features in the disc", said Keppler in a statement. Without the mask, or coronagraph, the star's light would overwhelm the light from the planet. This creates images of a certain planet taken from slightly different angles and at different points in the stellar halo, giving the impression that it's slowly rotating or moving about.

We now have the first-ever direct image of a planet being born, courtesy of the SPHERE instrument on ESO's VLT. It is not the first protoplanetary disc to be detected, but getting an image of one is not as simple as pointing a telescope at the sky and pressing a shutter button.

And the new planet was circling the star, albeit slowly.

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