Pictures of Baby Exoplanets

Artist's rendering of the planets orbiting PDS 70. (J. Olmsted (STScI))

Astronomers Snap a Rare Picture of Two Baby Planets

by Jason Daley

Scientists have never actually seen the vast majority of the 4,000 exoplanets, or planets orbiting stars other than our own, discovered in the last three decades. Instead, the existence of the planets is calculated from indirect observations, such as measuring changes in host stars’ brightness or tracking little wobbles caused by the gravitational tug of the bodies orbiting them. But in a few rare cases, researchers have succeeded in capturing an image of an exoplanet.

The latest capture detailed in the journal Nature Astronomy is particularly unique, showing two newborn planets swirling around a young star called PDS 70, which is located about 370 light years from Earth.

According to Mike Wall at, this is just the second time that researchers have imaged a multiplanet system. PDS 70 is a little less massive than our sun and much younger, just 6 million years old. Because of its young age, it’s still surrounded by a halo of gas and dust. Billions of years ago, our own solar system was also surrounded by a similar disk of gas and dust that was eventually swept up by young planets as they formed.

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  1. What are the odds of a given exoplanet’s orbit being on a plane in opposition to Earth at any given time of its orbit? In other words, the orbit of an exoplanet may never cross a perspective from Earth that makes the star’s light dim. Therefore, I view this “method” of exoplanetary discovery with skepticism.

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