German Scientists Photograph Formation Of A Planet

Jul 3, 2018
Originally published on July 3, 2018 6:55 pm
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The laws of planetary motion were first described by a 17th-century German scientist, Johannes Kepler.


Now, a 21st-century German scientist named Miriam Keppler has made her mark in the very same realm as her namesake. By the way, she is not related.

MIRIAM KEPPLER: The name Keppler is just a coincidence (laughter).

SHAPIRO: This Keppler led a team that has snapped the first-ever photo of a planet being formed. The planet's called PDS 70b.

KEPPLER: Of course, we were very excited.

KELLY: The photo is the result of several years of observation by the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, Germany.

KEPPLER: Detection of young planets is very challenging.

SHAPIRO: For starters, PDS 70b is far away - about 370 light years from Earth.

KELLY: OK. Second, it is orbiting a star that is many times brighter than it is, and third...

KEPPLER: Around these young stars, we find a lot of gas and dust, which is shaped in a thin disk. This is still remnant from the star formation.

KELLY: But PDS 70b happened to be in a gap of that dust and gas, which made the photograph possible.

SHAPIRO: So what do we know about this planet being formed? Well, it's bigger than Jupiter, and it takes a long time to orbit its host star.

KEPPLER: It takes about 118 years to fulfill one orbit around its own sun.

KELLY: And that orbit is 22 times Earth's distance to the sun. PDS 70b's star is a mere baby compared to our own - only 10 million years old. Ours is way older - 4.6 billion years.

SHAPIRO: The data from this observation gives science a way to look back into our own planetary past. Andre Muller is another member of the team at the Planck Institute.

ANDRE MULLER: We are now have starting to gather data to understand much better how own solar system may have formed.

SHAPIRO: And if we here on Earth can take a picture of a distant planet, does Muller think somewhere out there another civilization might just be snapping pictures of us?

MULLER: Oh, we certainly hope so.

KELLY: Fellow earthlings, say cheese. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.