Two baby gas giants spotted in orbit around a distant star

baby gas giants pds 70 image 7251 2e 70b and c 1
This artist’s illustration shows two gas giant exoplanets orbiting the young star PDS 70. J. Olmsted, STScI.

Two baby planets have been spotted forming around a distant young star called PDS 70. The two planets are growing into gas giants, and one of them came as a complete surprise to the scientists imaging the star.

PDS 70 is located 370 light-years away, and is a K7-type pre-main sequence star. That means it’s just a little bit smaller and less massive than our Sun, but is a relative infant by star standards at just 5.4 million years old.

When astronomers used the European Southern Observatory’s (ESO) Very Large Telescope to look at PDS 70, they were expecting to see one planet called PDS 70b. This baby planet is about 21 AU away from its star (one AU, or astronomical unit, is the distance between the Earth and the Sun) and is more massive than Jupiter by a factor of between four and 17 times.

The surprise was finding a second developing planet, called PDS 70c. This one is further out, at 34.5 AU from its star, and is smaller than its brother. Its mass is between one and ten times that of Jupiter.

baby gas giants pds 70 image 7251 1 70b and c
PDS 70 is only the second multi-planet system to be directly imaged. Through a combination of adaptive optics and data processing, Haffert et al were able to cancel out the light from the central star (marked by a white star) to reveal two orbiting protoplanets, PDS 70 b (lower left) and PDS 70 c. ESO / S. Haffert, Leiden Observatory.

Rather neatly, the two planets are very close to what is called a “2:1 resonance,” meaning that PDS 70b travels around the star twice in the time it takes PDS 70c to travel around it once. The two planets are having an important effect on the disk of dust and gas around the star, carving out a gap where they pass through the material.

“This is the first unambiguous detection of a two-planet system carving a disk gap,” Dr. Julien Girard, an astronomer with the Space Telescope Science Institute, said in a statement.

Observing young planets is helpful because it can teach us about how stars and planets evolve over time. Scientists believe that gas giants like Saturn and Jupiter (and the two planets around PDS 70) are “failed stars” because they are formed from clumps of hydrogen gas, like stars, but do not become large or hot enough to begin fusion. This latest study shows how forming planets can eat through dust and gas in the disk around a star to fuel their growth.

The study is published in the journal Nature Astronomy.

Emerging Tech

Want to work in the stars? Here are six future space jobs you could hold

Ever dreamed of leaving Earth to work in the stars? Here's a list of job titles that might sound like science fiction now, but almost certainly won’t a decade or two in the future.
Emerging Tech

Uranus’ rings shine brightly but hold a puzzle for astronomers

New images reveal the rings around Uranus, which are almost invisible to most telescopes. But there's a strange puzzle about them -- why they don't contain any small dust-sized particles.
Emerging Tech

Tiny galaxy has huge black hole at its center, gives clues to galactic evolution

A Hubble image shows a tiny galaxy which could hold the clue to unraveling a longstanding question about the evolution of galaxies. Despite its small size, it hosts a feature found in much larger galaxies -- a supermassive black hole.
Emerging Tech

Bill Nye the Science Guy talks “solar sailing” and the new space race

If successful, The Planetary Society’s LightSail 2 will be a milestone in spaceflight, the first craft to raise its orbit around the planet using just the power of sunlight.
Emerging Tech

Hormone boosts could help astronauts from losing muscle on long space journeys

Reduced gravity conditions during space flight missions can cause extreme muscle loss. Special hormone treatments may be able to help. Here's why that's of growing importance for space travel.
Emerging Tech

SpaceX is on a hiring spree for its Starlink global internet project

After a string of delays, SpaceX's Starlink project was finally launched last month. Now an analysis of data from SpaceX's job listings shows the company is on a hiring tear, advertising for more and more positions for the project.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Illuminated keyboards and a retro gaming console

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Emerging Tech

Ready to roll: Mars 2020 rover fitted with wheels ahead of mission next year

The Mars 2020 rover is getting ready for its trip to the red planet next year. The latest step in readying the rover is installing its wheels and suspension system, which engineers at NASA have been doing this month.
Emerging Tech

You can help search for aliens with an open access release of SETI data

The Breakthrough Initiatives, a program to search for extraterrestrial intelligence, recently analyzed its first three years of radio telescope data. And all of the data collected is being made publicly available in an open data archive.
Emerging Tech

The U.K.’s biggest (and only) asteroid mining company has designs on our skies

Is the founder and CEO of the U.K.'s Asteroid Mining Corporation going to be among the first people to strike it rich in space, or is he just chasing an ambitious but doomed mirage?
Emerging Tech

Dark matter galaxy crashed into the Milky Way, causing the ripples in its disk

New research suggests hundreds of million of years ago, the Milky Way collided with Antlia 2, a nearby dwarf galaxy dominated by dark matter. The collision caused ripples in the disk of gas around the Milky Way which we still observe today.
Emerging Tech

U.S. Navy is working on making its fleet invisible to computerized surveillance

The U.S. Navy’s ever-innovative Office of Naval Research is working on a way to turn the United States military fleet invisible. Well, to cutting-edge image-recognition systems, at least.
News

Apple’s new Seattle campus may mean big things for Siri, artificial intelligence

Apple plans to hire 2,000 more employees for a new Seattle campus, the company announced Monday, with a significant number of those jobs focused on Siri and artificial intelligence.
Emerging Tech

How to watch SpaceX’s most difficult Falcon Heavy launch ever

SpaceX will launch a Falcon Heavy rocket Monday evening in its most challenging launch yet. The launch is scheduled for Monday June 24 at 8:30 p.m. PT, but is dependent on weather conditions. You can watch NASA's livestream with coverage…