Scientists have long understood that planets — like humans — have to be born into the universe. Now, researchers have finally managed to photograph it happening for the first time in history.
Capturing a planet’s birth is exceptionally difficult because it’s often too far away to see on a telescope. But in a recent feat, scientists used an instrument called Sphere to capture it at last — a great win after they had started looking for a possible baby planet in 2012.
The footage is important because, up until this point, scientists largely believed in a dominant theory for planet formation that they were unable to confirm. A very simplified version of that theory goes something like this: Smaller clouds of gas and dust fall apart within a larger cloud, called a nebula. As the cloud collapses, it spins and compresses until pieces of it attach to each other, like when “household dust [sticks] together into dust bunnies,” as NASA put it. Eventually, that “dust bunny” attracts more space materials until it grows bigger and bigger and forms a planet.
For video game fans, it sounds strikingly similar to what happens to the spheres of junk beamed into the sky in the Katamari series.
The new planet is named PDS 70b because it was caught forming a dusty disc around a star called PDS 70. Scientists described PDS 70b as a “giant gas planet with a mass a few times that of Jupiter” that is “much hotter than any planet in our own solar system.”
Welcome to the universe, PDS 70b.