The Hubble Space Telescope has peeked into space and spotted its youngest exoplanet, a giant world 379 light-years from Earth that is still growing.
The planets form as dust and gas, swirling in a stellar disk surrounding their star, colliding and condensing to slowly become a “ball.” Far in the constellation Centaurus, Hubble spotted a planet still gathering. The young gas giant exoplanet, designated PDS 70b, is “only” 5 million years old, Hubble scientists said. While the planet is still gathering mass, pulling it away from the young star orbiting, it is already huge – about the size of Jupiter.
In a new study, scientists took advantage of this unique opportunity to explore a planet in its forms such as PDS 70b with the Hubble Space Telescope. .
“This system is so exciting because we can witness the formation of a planet,”
Connected: 7 ways to discover alien planets
The researchers were able to use the sensitivity of ultraviolet light to Hubble, which allows them to detect and measure the radiation from the hot gas that enters the forming planets, the researchers directly measured the growth rate of mass of PDS 70b.
“Hubble’s observations have allowed us to judge how fast the planet is gaining mass,” Zhou said. This is the first time researchers have been able to measure the rate of mass growth on the planet.
They also managed to directly depict the planet and found that it appears towards the end of the process of its formation.
The team also saw a number of hotspots glow in the ultraviolet light that Hubble is set to detect. These hotspots, researchers say, are caused by hot material that extends to the planet’s surface from magnetic field lines that extend from the planet’s atmosphere to its star’s orbital disk.
“If this material follows columns from the planet’s disk, it will lead to local hotspots,” Zhou said. “These hotspots can be at least 10 times hotter than the planet’s temperature.”
While Hubble has spotted more than 4,000 exoplanets so far, about 15 have been made directly, according to the statement. In addition, most of these 15 exoplanets looked like photo dots because they are so far away and small.
More ▼: This strange lava-rich alien planet is creating a new atmosphere
“We just don’t know much about how giant planets grow,” said study author Brendan Bowler of the University of Texas at Austin. “This planetary system gives us the first opportunity to witness material fall on the planet. The results reveal a new area for this study.”
These observations of PDS 70b are not a complete picture of the exoplanet, the researchers acknowledge in their statement. Additional data are needed to confirm the rate of mass growth and to explore the planet further. A closer look at PDS 70b could help shed light on how such gas giant planets form.
While studying PDS 70b, the researchers used a new technique that they say “paves a new route for further exploration of exoplanets, especially during the planet’s emerging years,” the statement said. With this technique, Zhou removed the glare coming from the star in the PDS 70b system.
Starlight can be a challenge for scientists studying distant objects like this exoplanet, and researchers often have trouble studying exoplanets that are close to the receiving stars. So by removing the glare, the team took a better look at the planet, and they paved the way for future researchers to study planets that are closer to their stars.
“Thirty-one years after launch, we’re still finding new ways to use Hubble,” Bowler added. “With future observations, we could potentially find out when most of the gas and dust falls on their planets and if that happens at a constant rate.”
Email Chelsea God at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @chelsea_gohd. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.