Watch Incredible, First-Ever Footage of a Planet Being Born
Using and incredibly powerful telescope located in Chile, astronomers have captured the formation of a new planet.
Led by researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, Germany, astronomers aimed the SPHERE instrument on the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) at a young dwarf star PDS 70, which is located 370 light-years from Earth, and captured the birth of planet PDS 70b.
In the image above, PDS 70 (the young dwarf star) is the black circle at the center, according to a release from the ESO. The star is dark due to a coronagraph, technology that allows the telescope to mask the light of the star. Without this mask, the star’s light would obscure planet PDS 70b — the bright circular blob to the right of the center. Also visible in the image is the surrounding “protoplanetary” disc, or the cloud of dust and gas leftover from star formation that rotates around the star and coalesces to form planets.
“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,” lead researcher on the discovery team, Miriam Keppler, said in an ESO statement, referring to other previous images. “The problem is that until now, most of these planet candidates could just have been features in the disc.”
Keppler said the team is confident that this is the best image of a forming planet to date.
“We’ve taken images at various different dates, used different algorithms, different wavelengths of light,” Keppler told The Verge. “If it was [an anomaly] we would not have detected it in such a consistent way.”
Subsequent observations of the planet by a second team, including Keppler and using many of the same instruments, were able to capture the image above.
In terms of planet PDS 70b, astronomers are still learning more about it. They believe it is a gas planet larger than Jupiter, located around 3 billion kilometers from PDS 70 (its central star), and with a surface temperature of 1,000 degrees celsius.
The astronomers’ research was published in Astronomy and Astrophysics earlier this week. Watch a video of the newly discovered planet below: