First confirmed image of newborn planet caught with ESO’s VLT

Out of this world, a planet is born

Thomas Henning, director at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy and leader of the teams, summarises the scientific adventure: "After more than a decade of enormous efforts to build this high-tech machine, now SPHERE enables us to reap the harvest with the discovery of baby planets!" Called PDS 70b, the young world can be identified as the bright spot to the right of the blackened center of the image above.

The image was captured by SPHERE, a planet-hunting instrument attached to the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope in Chile's Atacama Desert. This tool was created to find exoplanets around stars near the Sun.

Planets have a different scale when it comes to time. "We need to perceive the planet in the young star's disk to deeply understand the process behind the planet formation".

This planet, not yet completely formed, revolves around its star PDS 70 three billion kilometers away.

An expert involved in the study stated that this seems to be the most accurate report as compared to the earlier ones when the captured images didn't clearly convey of them being planets.

'And while we look at tiny, pristine meteorites in the lab at the Museum, astronomers are examining much bigger things outside the lab: young stars and planets like the one in this photo.

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The SPHERE data have also allowed scientists to study in detail the protoplanetary disk that surrounds PDS 70.

'I examine meteorites that come from asteroids - which are the building blocks of planets - in the hope of eventually figuring out how a cloud of dust and gas becomes the complex solar system we live in. The PDS 70 disk has a very special structure with a giant hole inside.

In the future, scientists will be able to use the same direct imaging technique to test models of planetary formation. These results will help refine the search for new exoplanets and better understand the process of their formation.

Miriam Kepler of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Germany said hints of baby planets have been detected before, but astronomers were not sure whether those observations might simply be features in the swirling dust. It is a mask blocking the blinding light of the star in the centre.

Following this, its distance from its parent star, the characteristics of the planet like brightness, temperature and its parameters related to the atmosphere are some of the major aspects to be studied by the SPHERE instrument. It takes the planet 120 years to orbit the star, which fits with astronomers' predictions that gas giants would need to form quite far from their stars.

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