May 4, 2021 - Science

Hubble watches a planet grow

Photo of a blurry image that shows a bright spot and colorful swirls around it

PDS 70b (the bright spot to the middle left) forming around its star. Photo: NASA/ESA/University of Texas/STScI

The Hubble Space Telescope has caught sight of a huge planet forming around a star 370 light-years from Earth.

Why it matters: Named PDS 70b, the planet is the youngest ever directly imaged by the powerful telescope and could help scientists learn more about how worlds grow up around their stars.

What they found: The researchers used the Hubble to snap images of the planet as it gobbled up dust and gas around the orange dwarf star it orbits, according to a new study in The Astronomical Journal.

  • By observing the process in UV light, the scientists were also able to pin down the speed at which the world is growing.
  • The astronomers found the planet is five times Jupiter's mass after about 5 million years of growth, but its rate of growth has slowed down considerably.
  • "Our measurements suggest that the planet is in the tail end of its formation process," Yifan Zhou, an author of the study and a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Texas at Austin, said in a statement.

What to watch: The team behind the new work also improved the way scientists can process images in the future, canceling out the light of the star in photos and making other worlds visible.

  • The new processing technique will allow scientists to directly image planets that are closer than ever before to their stars.
  • "With future observations, we could potentially discover when the majority of the gas and dust falls onto their planets and if it does so at a constant rate," Brendan Bowler, one of the authors of the study and a professor at UT Austin, said.
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