In early images using the new infrared pyramid wavefront sensor for adaptive optics (AO) correction, Keck Observatory showed what appeared to be planets orbiting the star PDS 70. It was initially unclear if this was real or an artifact in the images. Now it has been confirmed that this system is one that is the right combo of size, nearness, and brightness to allow us to distinguish the individual planets. These worlds are massive and still forming. According to team scientist Jason Wang, “Planet embryos form from a disk of dust and gas surrounding a newborn star. This circumstellar material accretes onto the protoplanet, creating a kind of smokescreen that makes it difficult to differentiate the dusty, gaseous disk from the developing planet in an image.” This smokescreen is both a boon and a curse – it points to where the planets are while screening them away, but careful imagery and data reduction allowed the background disk’s light to be removed to reveal the planets. This amazing work is just the start of what this new instrument will be able to do, and we look forward to seeing what will be learned as we image forming planet after forming planet throughout the nearby galaxy.
Astronomers Confirm Existence Of Two Giant Newborn Planets In PDS 70 System
“Keck/NIRC2 L’-band Imaging of Jovian-Mass Accreting Protoplanets Around PDS 70,” Jason J. Wang et al., 2020 May 18, Astronomical Journal (Preprint on arxiv.org)