Science Reporting

Direct image of a planetary system obtained in formation 370 light-years away

A group of astronomers has succeeded in reconstructing a direct image of a planetary system that includes more than a dozen exoplanets in orbit around the star PDS 70, some 370 light-years away from us. This is the second time that we can recreate a direct image, through a combination of adaptive optics and data processing, of a system of exoplanets after that of the star HR 8799.

This planetary system is, however, perhaps more interesting because there are two planets inside the growth disk that orbits around the star. These are two more internal planets, PDS 70b and PDS 70c. It was possible to identify these two planets through a complex technique that involves the cancellation of the central light of the star.

The first has a mass from four to 17 times that of Jupiter and was also detected and photographed for the first time in 2018. The second, just spotted, is near the outer edge of the growth disk at a distance from its star similar to that separating Neptune from the Sun. PDS 70 c is less massive than the first exoplanet and is characterized by a mass between one and 10 times that of Jupiter.

The discovery of this system shows that the planetary disks around the stars can be large enough to be observed directly. Already with very powerful tools, such as Hubble or the large optical terrestrial telescopes, it is possible to detect rings or discs around the stars and the question that astronomers ask themselves when they are detected is always the same: are there planets in formation in these rings? In this case, the answer is positive, an answer that makes us think that in many cases it may be the same.

And in the future things should improve even further with the putting into orbit of the James Webb Space Telescope from NASA. Through sophisticated spectral techniques, this telescope will allow analyzing in more detail not only this planetary system but also others that contain exoplanets in formation.