An alien planet photo was captured by astronomers this week, becoming the first-ever direct photograph of a planet being born.
The photo captured a giant alien planet as it was coming together, and was taken by the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope in Chile. The young star is seen as a faint orb embedded in a disk of gas and dust, Space.com noted.
"So far, planet formation has mostly been a topic tackled by computer simulations," said astronomer Sascha Quanz of ETH Zurich in Switzerland, leader of the research team that took the alien planet photo. "If our discovery is indeed a forming planet, then for the first time scientists will be able to study the planet formation process and the interaction of a forming planet and its natal environment empirically at a very early stage."
The alien planet photo was taken from about 335 light-years from earth, at a star that was already thought to host a giant planet about six times farther from the star than Earth is from the sun, Space.com noted. The newly discovered alien planet is even more distant, about t0 times farther from its star than Earth is from the sun.
The discover of the alien planet photo comes just a few months after astronomers predicted that the first "alien earth" planet will be discovered in 2013. The planet would need to be within a narrow stretch of space with conditions similar to Earth, known as the "Goldilocks zone."
"I'm very positive that the first Earth twin will be discovered next year,"Abel Mendez, who runs the Planetary Habitability Laboratory at the University of Puerto Rico at Arecibo, told Space.com in late 2012.
Researchers said the alien planet photo also represents an exciting breakthrough in space discovery.
"Exoplanet research is one of the most exciting new frontiers in astronomy, and direct imaging of planets is still a new field, greatly benefiting from recent improvements in instruments and data analysis methods," said Adam Amara, a member of the team that took the alien planet photo.