German Scientists Photograph Formation Of A Planet
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
The laws of planetary motion were first described by a 17th-century German scientist, Johannes Kepler.
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
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.