Astronomers capture first-time images of planet formation

Scientists have spotted the formation of a gas giant 370 light years from Earth.

Astronomers say that they have captured the first confirmed image of the formation of a planet, reports Nicola Davis for The Guardian. The image shows a bright object travelling through the dust and gas surrounding PDS70, a young star about 370 light years from Earth. The event was captured by the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope.

Astronomers report that the newly formed planet is a gas giant with a mass greater than Jupiter, and far away from its star—about as far as Uranus is from our sun. “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,” explains Miriam Keppler of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Germany, and lead author of the research. “The advantage of our detection is that we have detected [the new planet] with several different observing instruments, different filter bands and different years,” she added. She explains that the star around which the new planet orbits is just five to six million years old, which could make the planet even younger.

It is possible that the planet has neighbors, or that other planets could appear over time, as Dr. Zoe Leinhardt, a computational astrophysicist explained about the discovery. “The way that planets form, a large Jupiter-mass planet would be the easiest to see … and also those large planets would form more quickly.” She believes that this indicates planet formation is ongoing in the system. Astronomers now have the task of carrying out observations to explore how the planet develops, especially in light of its distance from its star—one that defies current planet formation theories.

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