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This is the first photo of a planet being born
03 July 2018, 05:54 | Justin Tyler
The planet can be seen in the right-hand side of this image
Now, for the first time ever, astronomers have announced the witnessing of a planet in the midst of its own birth, and they've got a stunning image to back up the news.
Getting this data is not easy: it requires using the ground-based "VLT" (short for "Very Large Telescope") perched on a mountaintop in Chile and using "SPHERE", a specialized planet-finding instrument, which has been used for three years.
The new planet is named PDS 70b because it was caught forming a dusty disc around a star called PDS 70.
"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", Miriam Keppler, the lead researcher on the project, explains. The exoplanet boasts a surface temperature of roughly 1000 degrees Celsius, more than twice as hot as Mercury, the hottest planet in our solar system.
Thomas Henning, director at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy and leader of the teams, summarizes 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!"
This discovery, scientists hope, will give us a brand new view on how planets are actually formed, and develop our understanding of the process.
Young dwarf star PDS 70 is less than 10 million years old, and its planetary companion is thought to be between five and six million years old.
If you want to drive astronomers insane at a party, casually ask them how planets form.
The planet can be seen just right of center inside the disk (the very bright blur).
Researchers have always been on the hunt for a baby planet, and this is the first confirmed discovery of its kind. A second team, involving numerous same astronomers as the discovery team, including Keppler, has in the past months followed up the initial observations to investigate PDS 70's fledgling planetary companion in more detail.
Picking out the faint planet from the brilliant light of its host star was a challenge for the team.
This newborn planet is taking shape in out galaxy and growing fast. Now we can see the planet for the first time. That's about the distance between Uranus and our Sun.
'By determining the planet's atmospheric and physical properties, the astronomers are able to test theoretical models of planet formation'.
PDS 70b has an atmosphere - but it's no place you'd want to visit.
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