Astronomers deliver darling first image of a baby planet

Who's a cute little newborn planet? You are! You are!

Amanda Kooser
Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET. When not wallowing in weird gear and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.
Amanda Kooser

Earth is billions of years old. We're way, way past the adorable infant stage for our planet. So we must turn our eyes outward to catch a glimpse of a planetary newborn, which the European Southern Observatory has done in spectacular fashion.

Enlarge Image

The bright point to the right of the image center is planet PDS 70b. 

ESO/A. Müller et al.

The ESO's Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile captured the first confirmed image of a newborn planet around the star PDS 70. 

A team led by astronomers from the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, Germany, used the VLT's planet-spotting Sphere instrument to locate and snap a portrait of the cosmic baby. 

The planet appears as a bright spot just to the right of the center of the image. The black dot is used to mask the light of its star, which would otherwise overwhelm the image and hide the young planet. 

The planet is called PDS 70b and scientists have determined it is a gas giant with a mass several times that of Jupiter. But don't pack your suitcase for a visit just yet. It has a surface temperature of around 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit (1,000 degrees Celsius) and takes 120 years to orbit its host star.

"This discovery provides us with an unprecedented opportunity to test theoretical models of planet formation," said André Müller, a member of the research team. The team's results will appear in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

PDS 70b is a wee babe of a planet, and astronomers believe it is likely still growing.

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