Home >> Science

Newborn planet found around young star

Planet formation is a complex process, which is full of mysteries. Over 3,000 exoplanets have been discovered by astronomers and nearly all are middle-aged, with ages of a billion years or more.

Newborn planet found around young star

Now, a team of d researchers from Caltech have discovered the youngest fully-formed exoplanet ever detected. The planet, K2-33b, at 5 to 10 million years old, is still very very young.

NASA's Kepler space telescope had first measured the first signals of the existence of the planet during its K2 mission. The telescope detected a periodic dimming in the light emitted by the planet's host star-called K2-33.

Scientists at W.M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii said the dimming was due to a planet, later named K2-33b. The findings of the study were published in June 20 advance online issue of the journal Nature.

"At 4.5 billion years old, the Earth is a middle-aged planet-about 45 in human-years," says Trevor David, the first author on the paper and a graduate student working with professor of astronomy Lynne Hillenbrand.

"By comparison, the planet K2-33b would be an infant of only a few weeks old."

"This discovery is a remarkable milestone in exoplanet science," says Erik Petigura, a postdoctoral scholar in planetary science and a coauthor on the paper.

"The newborn planet K2-33b will help us understand how planets form, which is important for understanding the processes that led to the formation of the earth and eventually the origin of life."

According to astronomers, the star orbited by K2-33b has a small amount of disk material left.

"Astronomers know that star formation has just completed in this region, called Upper Scorpius, and roughly a quarter of the stars still have bright protoplanetary disks," David says. "The remainder of stars in the region do not have such disks, so we reasoned that planet formation must be nearly complete for these stars, and that there would be a good chance of finding young exoplanets around them."