On Monday, scientists released the first confirmed image of a newborn planet, which they captured using the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope in Chile. That’s it right up there, the bright li’l blob just right of center — a newly formed, yet unnamed gas giant with a mass greater than Jupiter, orbiting a star known as PDS70. And that’s great! So great. Huge congrats to the scientists who found this bright space baby, I’m so happy for them. But — just between you and me, and no offense to the scientists or their planet — I just … don’t find it that cute.
It’s not the planet’s fault. Newborns of any kind are always slightly odd-looking. For the first few weeks, baby humans are basically weird lumps of dough with eyeballs and fingers, that are pooping constantly. This little planet is only about 5 to 10 million years old — that’s nothing in planet time — so it’s still growing into its cloudy atmosphere and 1,839-degree surface temperature.
And, in all fairness, we can’t compare it to much. Scientists haven’t been able to capture direct images of newborn planets before, lead researcher Miriam Keppler, of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Germany, explained to The Guardian, because their previous detection methods did not allow them to determine with certainty whether “planet candidates” in circumstellar discs were in fact planets, or simple features of the disc.
“In this case we now have a direct image [of the planet] in its “birthplace, which is the circumstellar disc,” Keppler said. “This is especially important because people have been wondering [for a long time], how these planets actually form and how the dust and the material in this disc forms [into] a planet, and now we can directly observe this.”
So I really can’t say whether this baby planet is more or less cute than any other baby planet, but for whatever reason, it just doesn’t make me squeal “Awww!” the same way I would at the picture of a baby Labrador, or this picture of a neutron star.
Still, people are very excited about this bundle of science.
“This is an impressive discovery as this is maybe the first unambiguous direct observation of a planet that is caught while still forming within a young protoplanetary disc,” Dr. Dimitris Stamatellos, leader the of the theoretical star formation and exoplanets group at the University of Central Lancashire told The Guardian.
Congratulations again to the scientists who made this groundbreaking discovery, and to the planet, who I’m sure will age in an interesting, distinguished way.