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Two planets orbiting a distant star

PDS 70 (center) with PDS 70 b (left) and PDS 70 c (right). Photo: ESO and S. Haffert
PDS 70 (center) with PDS 70 b (left) and PDS 70 c (right). Photo: ESO and S. Haffert

Two planets have been spotted growing around a star 370 light-years from our own Sun, according to a study in the journal Nature Astronomy this week.

The big picture: By studying these forming planets, scientists will be able to get a glimpse into how planet formation occurs on a large scale.

  • It's notoriously difficult to spot gaps caused by nascent planets forming in disks of gas and dust surrounding stars, but in this case, the researchers caught sight of hydrogen being eaten up by the growing worlds.

What they found: The star — named PDS 70 — is a bit smaller than our Sun, but it's much younger, at 6 million years old.

  • Scientists discovered the first planet in orbit around PDS 70 in 2018 using the Very Large Telescope in Chile. That world — named PDS 70 b — is thought to be 4–17 times the mass of Jupiter and is the star's innermost planet.
  • The newfound planet, named PDS 70 c, is about 3.3 billion miles from its star, at around the same distance as Neptune is from our Sun.
  • Researchers think PDS 70 c is about 1–10 times as massive as Jupiter and was also spotted with the Very Large Telescope.

What's next: These large planets are likely ideal targets for the JWST — expected to launch in 2021. The huge telescope, which is thought of as the Hubble Space Telescope's successor, is designed to parse out the composition of the atmospheres of planets far from our own solar system.