World's first images of a newborn planet reveal birth of alien world

Scientists have for the first time witnessed the birth of a planet a huge gas giant many times the size of Jupiter swirling into existence 370 light years from Earth

The stunning images, taken using the European Southern Observatory's (ESO's) Very Large Telescope, offer an unprecedented view of the formation of planets.

The image, captured with advanced, surface-based telescopes, shows the new planet developing around the dwarf star PDS 70, which is located around 370 light-years from Earth.

Miriam Kepler of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Germany said hints of baby planets have been detected before, but astronomers were not sure whether those observations might simply be features in the swirling dust. The young planet is absolutely scorching, with a surface temperature topping 1,000 degrees Celsius. The object of their attention is a still-forming planet that orbits around PDS 70, a young dwarf star. The gas giant is around 3 billion kilometers from PDS 70 and is believed to be around 3 times the mass of Jupiter. The data from SPHERE also allowed the team to measure the planet's brightness over different wavelengths - based on which they estimated the properties of its atmosphere.

"The problem is that until now, most of these planet candidates could just have been features in the disc", explained Dr Keppler, who lead the team behind the discovery of the planet.

Picking out the faint planet from the brilliant light of its host star was a challenge for the team.

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"We needed to observe a planet in a young star's disc to really understand the processes behind planet formation", said André Müller, one of the authors of a second study looking at the planet.

Until now, it had proven impossible to capture the birth of a planet as it is usually obscured by dust, but now they've finally managed to get shots of a planet breaking out of a "disc" from which it is formed. That's about the distance between Uranus and our Sun. A forming planet, in comparison, is little more than an infant.

While a newborn planet might sound like an interesting place to visit, you most certainly wouldn't want to set foot on PDS 70b any time soon.

"Keppler's results give us a new window onto the complex and poorly-understood early stages of planetary evolution".

Thomas Henning, director at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy and leader of both of the teams, said: "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!"

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