NASA’s Hubble Telescope is giving astronomers a rare look at a Jupiter-sized, still-forming planet that is feeding off material surrounding a young star.
“We just don’t know very much about how giant planets grow,” said Brendan Bowler of the University of Texas at Austin in the release. “This planetary system gives us the first opportunity to witness material falling onto a planet. Our results open up a new area for this research.”
The American space agency said in the social media posts that it has taken this extrasolar five million years — “a pretty young age for a planet” — to grow to its current size.
“These Hubble observations help give us insight into how gas giant planets formed around our Sun 4.6 billion years ago,” NASA added in the post.
The image shows a red, hot planet emanating electrical sparks, the other ends of which are connected to halo rings surrounding it as if the planet was using them as a tube to suck from the outside.
The exoplanet, dubbed PDS 70, orbits the orange dwarf star PDS 70b, which is “already known to have two actively forming planets inside a huge disk of dust and gas encircling the star,” the release states. The system is 370 light-years from Earth in the constellation Centaurus.
In a blog post, NASA said that these observations would offer insights into how giant planets formed around the Sun 4.6 billion years ago.
NASA said more than 4,000 exoplanets have been documented until now but only about 15 have been directly imaged by telescopes.
In order to combat the glare of the orange dwarf star, which is 3,000 times brighter than the planet nearby, Zhou carefully processed the images to remove the glare so that only the planet’s light was visible.
These planets are so far away and small that they simply appear like dots in the best photos. However, scientists say that are hopeful the Hubble’s new technique could open a completely new area of research.