June 09, 2019

Astronomers Photo Two Protoplanets

Timothy Birdnow

Here is a fascinating astronomical tale. Astronomers have spotted two protoplanets absorbing matter from a protoplanetary disk around a baby star.

From the article:

When stars are young, they're shrouded in wide, flattened circles of matter. Astronomers call these features "protoplanetary disks," because it's their dust and gas that bunches up into the balls that ultimately become planets. Researchers have long suspected that "protoplanets" — half-baked worlds within those disks — might carve wide gaps in the seas of loose material that telescopes might be able to spot.

Now, that theory seems confirmed, with two planets discovered in the gaps in a disk around PDS 70, a smallish star in the constellation Centaurus, located 370 light-years from Earth.

PDS 70 is a relatively new star in our galaxy, having formed some 6 million years ago. (For comparison, our sun is about 4.5 billion years old.) And the alien star is still surrounded by a disk that astronomers can spot through telescopes.


Back in July 2018, the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope (VLT) spotted a huge planet, between four and 17 times the mass of Jupiter, orbiting PDS 70 close to the inner edge of that gap. Astronomers named this planet PDS 70b. Now, in a new paper published Monday (June 3) in the journal Nature Astronomy, scientists revealed that there's a second planet in that gap.

The newfound planet, PDS 70c, has a mass between one and 10 times that of Jupiter. This world orbits closer to the outer edge of the gap, at a distance similar to Neptune's 3.3 billion miles (5.3 billion km). PDS 70c orbits its star once for every two orbits of its larger, inner twin.

Now that is one great POGO deal!

These are very exciting times for astronomers. Everywhere we look we seem to find something new. When I was a kid we didn't even know anything about Pluto - just that it existed, and was a long way from Earth. Photographs of Pluto showed nothing but a smeary blotch, and they didn't even know how large it was because they didn't know it had a jumbo moon (which made it appear larger or smaller depending on where Charon was in her orbit.) We now know of at least 1200 planets in other solar systems, have a photograph of a black hole, and now have this.

These are exciting times!

Posted by: Timothy Birdnow at 09:32 AM | No Comments | Add Comment
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