Caught on Camera! Birth of a Planet Captured For The First Time

Caught on Camera! Birth of a Planet Captured For The First Time


One of the most powerful planet-hunting instruments, SPHERE instrument on the Very Large Telescope (VLT) was used in the first robust detection of the young planet, named PDS 70b. Astronomers led by a team at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Germany. The SPHERE instrument also enabled the team to measure the brightness of the planet at different wavelengths.

The new planet PDS 70b is located roughly three billion kilometres from the central star, roughly equivalent to the distance between Uranus and the Sun. The analysis shows that PDS 70b is a giant gas planet with a mass a few times that of Jupiter. Its surface has a temperature of around 1,000 degrees Celsius, which makes it much hotter than any planet in our own solar system.

The dark region at the centre of the image is due to a coronagraph, a mask which blocks the blinding light of the central star and allows astronomers to detect its much fainter disc and planetary companion.

Miriam Keppler, who led the team behind the discovery of PDS 70’s still-forming planet said, “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” and further added, “The problem is that until now, most of these planet candidates could just have been features in the disc.

A team of astronomers presented the first convincing observation of a planet-sized object orbiting within the circumstellar disk of its host star in the Astronomy & Astrophysics. The study provided some of the strongest evidence yet supporting astronomers current theory of planet formation. In a second study, a separate group of researchers estimated the characteristics of the newborn planet, dubbed PDS 70b.

By determining the planet’s atmospheric and physical properties, the astronomers are able to test theoretical models of planet formation. This glimpse of the dust-shrouded birth of a planet was only possible thanks to the impressive technological capabilities of ESO’s SPHERE instrument.

By continuing to observe the planet using SPHERE and other instruments, the teams hope to both confirm their findings, as well as track the world as it moves along its 120-year orbit. But for now, we will have to live with the beautiful baby picture.