Scientists Publish First-Ever Direct Imaging of Two Young Exoplanets Cutting a Path Through the Protoplanetary Disc Surrounding a Newborn Star

Wednesday, 05 June 2019 - 1:10PM
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Wednesday, 05 June 2019 - 1:10PM
Scientists Publish First-Ever Direct Imaging of Two Young Exoplanets Cutting a Path Through the Protoplanetary Disc Surrounding a Newborn Star
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Image credit: NASA/J. Olmsted (STScI)
Two young exoplanets have been directly imaged cutting a swath through the protoplanetary disc surrounding a newborn star, according to CNN. This is the first photographic evidence of its kind. The findings were published Monday in the June 3 issue of Nature Astronomy.

The system in question orbits the star PDS 70 which, at 6 million years old, is still considered young. (Must be nice.) PDS 70 is a little bit smaller than our Sun and surrounded by an enormous disc of dust and gas from which its planets are born.

Protoplanetary discs, as they are known, form when a cloud of dust and gas collapses inside a nebula. The tremendous gravity this collapse generates pulls this material into the center, which heats up as it compresses until it becomes the bright seed of a new star. The rest of this collapsed cloud flattens out into a disc that swirls around the new star. Debris begins to clump together in this rotating disc; as these clumps grow larger their gravity attracts more material until, eventually, a "protoplanet" forms.

The two orbiting planets are the aptly-named PDS 70 b and PDS 70 c. The first – PDS 70 b – was discovered in 2018. It's a gas giant that is several times larger than Jupiter (anywhere from 4 to 17 times as big) and hotter than any planet in our solar system. PDS 70 c is newly-discovered and sits on the outer edge of the protoplanetary disc, some 3 billion miles from the host star or about as far as Neptune is from our Sun.

Consider the sheer scale of this discovery: two newly-formed planets are capable of displacing enough interstellar material in a massive protoplanetary disc that we can see the path they are cutting from hundreds of light-years away on Earth.

According to Julien Girard of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, these gaps have been observed before. "The open question has been, are there planets there? In this case, the answer is yes," he explained. "This is the first unambiguous detection of a two-planet system carving a disk gap."

Watch how a planet forms in the video below:



Image credit: NASA/J. Olmsted (STScI)
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