Published: Thu, July 05, 2018
Science | By

Giant telescope captures incredible images of a newborn planet

Giant telescope captures incredible images of a newborn planet

Newly discovered planet though very young, but huge: many times more than Jupiter. This protoplanet is surrounded by a thick cloud of material so that, seen from this position, its star nearly invisible and red in colour because of the scattering of light from the dust.

"For our study, we selected PDS 70, a star that was already suspected of having a young planet circling around it", says Miriam Keppler, doctoral student at MPIA. Commissioned in 2014, SPHERE uses extreme adaptive optics: it has a mirror that corrects the effects of atmospheric turbulence more than 1,200 times per second and at a nanometric scale. Despite being so close to the star in the photo, the planet is actually located about 3 billion kilometers (~1.86B miles) away from the star in space. Nearly the distance between Uranus and the Sun. Today scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy (MPIA) in Heidelberg and the Sphere instrument consortium at the Very Large Telescope of the European Southern Observatory (ESO) in Chile, released a spectacular image of the birth.

It's the first time the brand new planet can be seen. Surprisingly, the team also suggests the baby planet itself is surrounded by its own disk of material (called a circumplanetary disk), though this is much more hard to verify. But don't pack your suitcase for a visit just yet. The planet's surface has a temperature of around 1000°C, making it much hotter than any planet in our own Solar System. But they added that they hope to study the planet with different telescopes to learn more about its composition, weather and other properties; so far, they can tell it has a cloudy atmosphere.

The discovery by two teams of researchers is detailed in two papers published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics on Monday.

There is a dark region at the centre of the image, which is there because of a coronagraph. It would not have been possible to get the photograph in the current form without the mask.

The team comprises several members of the original team, including Keppler.

"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".

The discoveries were due to ESO's SPHERE instrument that uses a unique technique known as high-contrast imaging which enables it to employ observing strategies and data processing systems to capture the faintest of signals.

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