Scientists have for the first time witnessed the birth of a planet, a huge gas giant many times the size of Jupiter.
The discovery of the planet’s formation, known as PDS 70b, was made by the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope in Chile. PDS 70b is about 82% as massive as the sun and 370 light-years from Earth.
“These discs around young stars are the birthplaces of planets, but so far only a handful of observations have detected hints of baby planets in them,” Miriam Keppler of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, who led one team, said in a statement. “The problem is that until now, most of these planet candidates could just have been features in the disc.”
The planet takes 120 Earth-years to orbit the star, at a distance of about 22 astronomical units. One astronomical unit is the distance between the sun and Earth, or nearly 93 million miles. So if you dropped PDS 70b into our own solar system, the world would orbit somewhere between Uranus and Neptune.
PDS 70b has an atmosphere — but it’s no place you’d want to visit. Astronomers who’ve studied the data believe the world is a gas giant whose atmosphere is about 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit, which is hot enough to melt lead.