Astronomers Believe They Have First Image of Newborn Planet

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This is the very first confirmed image capturing the first moment of a planet's existence-shown condensing from a chaotic sea of gold and crimson dust 370 million light years away.

A stunning, first-of-its-kind photo shows a huge, newfound alien world taking shape in the disk of gas and dust surrounding a young star. The coronagraph, which appears as a dark circle in the middle of the VLT image, works to block out the bright light of the host star - emissions that would otherwise overwhelm the telescope's ability to photograph and analyze the characteristics of the protoplanetary disk. The planet is a gas giant with a mass greater than Jupiter and is about as far from its star as Uranus is from our sun.

"These disks 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 researcher Miriam Keppler said in a statement released with the new image.

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The telescope's SPHERE instrument was able to observe the exoplanet at multiple wavelengths, revealing the young planet's atmosphere. The results of the research will be shared in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics [PDF].

"The problem is that until now, most of these planet candidates could just have been features in the disc".

Both studies used the hi-tech capabilities of ESO's SPHERE instrument, which uses a technique called high-contrast imaging to filter out the signals of planets from stars. The black dot is used to mask the light of its star, which would otherwise overwhelm the image and hide the young planet. This elevated temperature may seem odd given the planet's significant distance from its star, but it's in line with that of other newborn gas giants, study team members said.

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"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!"

This discovery, scientists hope, will give us a brand new view on how planets are actually formed, and develop our understanding of the process. Thomas Henning, director at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy and leader of the teams, said in a statement.

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