Astronomers captured the first image of a baby planet

The VLT in the Atacama overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Pic ESO

Image The Very Large Telescope complex in Chile. Pic ESO

The extraordinary snapshot was achieved using a device called SPHERE which was installed on a device usefully called the Very Large Telescope, which the scientists say is one of the most powerful planet-hunting instruments in existence.

The images that the team captured show the planet as a bright point beside the black filter covering the star at the centre of the image.

The birth of a planet has been caught on camera for the first time, by an global team of astronomers led by a group at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, Germany. The surface temperature is now a steamy 1000 degrees Celsius (1832 degrees F).

The discovery of PDS 70b is a significant event for astronomers, and subsequent teams of researchers are already following up on the initial research.

The worldwide team of researchers made the robust detection of the young planet, named PDS 70b, cleaving a path through the planet-forming material surrounding a young star. Further analysis shows that the new planet is a giant gas planet with a total mass several times that of Jupiter.

Directly imaging the planet is a game-changer. The data from SPHERE also allowed the team to measure the planet's brightness over different wavelengths - based on which they estimated the properties of its atmosphere. "The problem is that until now, most of these planet candidates could just have been features in the disk". Instead, the researchers used a coronagraph to block the bright light of the star in order to look at the disk and the planet. Now, for the first time ever, astronomers have announced the witnessing of a planet in the midst of its own birth, and they've got a stunning image to back up the news. Without the mask, the light from planet would be overhwhelmed by PDS 70. That's the same distance as Uranus from our sun.

"We needed to observe a planet in a young star's disc to really understand the processes behind planet formation", Müller added in the statement.

Once they'd sifted out the starlight, scientists probed the mysterious baby planet.

"Keppler's results give us a new window onto the complex and poorly-understood early stages of planetary evolution", said astronomer André Müller of the MPIA.

Astronomers observing circumstellar disks shredded with gaps, rings and spirals have long thought planet formation could be behind these structures.

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