The Hubble Space Telescope is watching an exoplanet called PDS 70b as it gathers mass in its distant star system. NASA says the exoplanet is slowly accumulating gas and dust as the world increases in mass over millions of years. The researchers were able to use Hubble to directly measure the mass growth rate of the PDS 70b for the first time using the space telescope’s ultraviolet sensitivity to capture the radiation created by extremely hot gas falling on the planet.
The exoplanet is a massive world the size of Jupiter that orbits its star at approximately the same distance as Uranus orbits the sun. PDS 70b moves through a mass of gas and dust as it orbits its star, and astronomers say the planet began to form about 5 million years ago. They believe it may be near the end of their training process.
Observing the planet provides astronomers with a new way to study the formation of the planet. They believe the planet could help other astronomers to learn how gas giants form in remote solar systems. Currently, scientists don’t know much about how gas giant planets form. The planetary system is giving the opportunity to witness the material falling on a planet and opens up a new area for research on this type of planet.
PDS 70b is also one of the few exoplanets that a telescope has directly registered. Of more than 4,000 exoplanets that have been cataloged, only 15 have been directly photographed by telescopes. Scientists note that exoplanets are so distant and small that they are usually just dots, even in the best photos taken.
The team used a new technique via Hubble to obtain direct images of the PDS 70b, opening a new route for future research on exoplanets. PDS 70b orbits an orange dwarf star called PDS 70, known to have two planets in active formation within a massive disk of dust and gas around the star. The system is about 370 light years from Earth, in the constellation Centaurus.