Astronomers at the Very Large Telescope in Chile have captured the first ever image of a planet in the process of forming. The image shows a planet about four times the size of Jupiter orbiting a young star and clearing away a region of the dust and debris surrounding the star system.
Since 2014, the VLT has been using a planet-hunting instrument called the Spectro-Polarimetric High-contrast Exoplanet REsearch instrument, or SPHERE for short. It uses a sunshield to block the light of the star to study the planets and other stuff in orbit.
In the photo above, you can see the sunshield as a black circle in the middle of the photo. This is necessary because stars are around a million times brighter than planets and even brighter than everything else in a system, so the only way to take photos is to block out the starlight. The planet itself is situated just below and to the right.
The planet in question orbits its young star about as far away as Uranus is from the sun. It has a mass about four times that of Jupiter and has a surface temperature of nearly 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
This image is important because it shows the newborn planet clearly inside the planetary disk surrounding it. “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,” lead astronomer Miriam Keppler says. “The problem is that until now, most of these planet candidates could just have been features in the disc.”
This new discovery confirms the presence of a planet inside the disk and proves that gaps in planetary disks are caused by planets. This gives astronomers a kind of roadmap for detecting other newly-forming planets around other stars, which will give us more insights into how planets form.
Previously Published by: Popular Mechanics USA