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Birth of a New Giant Planet

Astronomers have captured the first direct images of a Giant Planet.To the untrained eye, the picture may appear to look like a blob surrounded by gas and dust, but astronomers say the image actually shows the birth of a gas giant planet, much like Jupiter in our solar system.

“So far, planet formation has mostly been a topic tackled by computer simulations,” project leader Sascha Quanz, an astronomer at ZTH Zurich in Switzerland, said in a statement. “If our discovery is indeed a forming planet, then for the first time scientists will be able to study the planet formation process and the interaction of a forming planet and its natal environment empirically at a very early stage.”

This is not the first time astronomers have paid attention to the star HD 100546, which is roughly 335 light-years from Earth. Previously another giant planet was found floating six times farther from the star than Earth orbits the sun. The planet that was photographed as it was born orbits the star ten times farther away than its sibling planet and a whopping 70 times the distance between the sun and Earth.

One of the main reasons astronomers are so certain the image depicts the birth of a planet is how it affirms the existing theory of how planets are formed. Each planetary system begins with a star that is created from large clumps of dust and gas. Once the star is formed, leftover gas and dust continues to circle the star until it comes together and forms a planet. Scientists believe this what is taking place in the image.

The picture also shows structures orbiting the star that scientists believe were formed as the baby planet and the other floating materials interacted. In addition, data collected by the research team has revealed that the materials surrounding the new planet have been heated. All of these observations fit perfect with the previously accepted theory of how planets are formed.

This is the first picture of its kind because Earth’s atmosphere causes any images taken of space to blur. However, the NACO optics system on the Very Large Telescope fixed this blurriness. In addition, the instrument was also able to block out distracting bright lights from the nearby star because it observes near-infrared wavelengths. This allowed the astronomers to be able see the forming planet.

Birth of a New Giant Planet
“Exoplanet research is one of the most exciting new frontiers in astronomy, and direct imaging of planets is still a new field, greatly benefiting from recent improvements in instruments and data analysis methods,” said Adam Amara who was part of the study. “In this research we used data analysis techniques developed for cosmological research, showing that cross-fertilization of ideas between fields can lead to extraordinary progress.”



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