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Alien Planet Photo: Is Something Really Out There?

Travelers Today       By    Antranig Dereyan

Updated: Mar 02, 2013 11:43 AM EST

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n alien world just two-thirds the size of Earth - one of the smallest on record - detected by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope
The exoplanet candidate, known as UCF-1.01, orbits a star called GJ 436, which is located a mere 33 light-years away. UCF-1.01 might be the nearest world to our solar system that is smaller than our home planet. (Photo : Reuters)

As David Duchovny famously said during his "X-Files'" days, "the truth is out there," well,   according to astronomers who think they've captured the first-ever direct photograph of an alien planet, he could be right.

The picture, which captured a giant alien planet as it is coming together, was snapped by the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope in Chile. It shows a faint blob embedded in a thick disk of gas and dust around the young star HD 100546. The object appears to be a baby gas giant planet, similar to Jupiter, forming from the disk's material, scientists say, reported Yahoo.

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"So far, planet formation has mostly been a topic tackled by computer simulations," astronomer Sascha Quanz of ETH Zurich in Switzerland, leader of the research team, said in a statement. "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," stated Yahoo.

The star HD 100546, which lies 335 light-years from Earth, was already thought to host another giant planet that orbits it about six times farther out than the Earth is from the sun. The new potential planet lies even farther, about 10 times the distance of its sibling, at roughly 70 times the stretch between the Earth and sun. [Giant Planet In the Making Spotted? (Video)], according to Huffington Post.

The online site goes on to explain how the possible planet fits the picture scientists are building of how worlds form.

Stars themselves are born in clouds of gas and dust, and after the form, a disk of leftover material often orbits them. From this disk, baby planets can take shape. That's what appears to be happening here.

"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, another member of the team. "In this research we used data analysis techniques developed for cosmological research, showing that cross-fertilization of ideas between fields can lead to extraordinary progress," according to Yahoo.

The findings are detailed in the Feb. 28 issue of "Astrophysical Journal Letters."

Cue the "X-Files'" theme here.

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