This is the first photo of a planet being born
After years of searching for a new planet, scientists have finally photographed one’s birth using an advanced telescope and add-on instrument. A. Müller et al/European Southern Observatory

Scientists have long understood that planets — like humans — have to be born into the universe. Now, researchers have finally managed to photograph it happening for the first time in history.

Capturing a planet’s birth is exceptionally difficult because it’s often too far away to see on a telescope. But in a recent feat, scientists used an instrument called Sphere to capture it at last — a great win after they had started looking for a possible baby planet in 2012.

This first-ever photo of the new baby planet, PDS 70b, was taken by the European Southern Observatory which had been “planet hunting” using a Sphere instrument added to a telescope.
This first-ever photo of the new baby planet, PDS 70b, was taken by the European Southern Observatory which had been “planet hunting” using a Sphere instrument added to a telescope. A. Müller et al/European Southern Observatory (ESO)

The footage is important because, up until this point, scientists largely believed in a dominant theory for planet formation that they were unable to confirm. A very simplified version of that theory goes something like this: Smaller clouds of gas and dust fall apart within a larger cloud, called a nebula. As the cloud collapses, it spins and compresses until pieces of it attach to each other, like when “household dust [sticks] together into dust bunnies,” as NASA put it. Eventually, that “dust bunny” attracts more space materials until it grows bigger and bigger and forms a planet.

For video game fans, it sounds strikingly similar to what happens to the spheres of junk beamed into the sky in the Katamari series.

PDS 70, the dwarf star located near the new baby planet PDS 70b, is located in the Centaurus constellation.
PDS 70, the dwarf star located near the new baby planet PDS 70b, is located in the Centaurus constellation. A. Muller et al/European Southern Observatory (ESO)

The new planet is named PDS 70b because it was caught forming a dusty disc around a star called PDS 70. Scientists described PDS 70b as a “giant gas planet with a mass a few times that of Jupiter” that is “much hotter than any planet in our own solar system.”

Welcome to the universe, PDS 70b.