The first clear, confirmed image of a still-forming planet has been captured by the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile.
The baby planet can be seen as the bright spot to the right of the centre of the above image, where the dwarf star PDS 70 is blacked out by the telescope’s coronagraph, an instrument that blocks the blinding light of the star.
The planet, dubbed PDS 70b, is located roughly three billion kilometres from the central star, roughly equivalent to the distance between Uranus and the Sun. Analysis of light from the planet at different wavelengths shows that PDS 70b is a giant gas planet with a mass a few times that of Jupiter. The planet’s surface has a temperature of around 1000°C, making it much hotter than any planet in our own Solar System.
While images of the discs of gas and dust that form planets around young stars have been captured before, this is the first to conclusively identify a planet in the disc.
“So far only a handful of observations have detected hints of baby planets,” explains Miriam Keppler, who lead the team behind the discovery of PDS 70’s still-forming planet. “Intil now, most of these planet candidates could just have been features in the disc.”