NASA astronauts have discovered a new-born fully formed exoplanet ever detected around a young star with the help of Kepler Space Telescope and its extended K2 mission. The planet that revolves around a star beyond the Sun is known as an exoplanet.
The newly found exoplanet is just 5-10 million years old, thus becoming one of the few newborn planets discovered so far. “Our Earth is roughly 4.5 billion years old. By comparison, the planet K2-33b is very young. You might think of it as an infant,” lead researcher Trevor David from California Institute of Technology (Caltech) said. (Also Read: NASA developing battery-powered airplane Maxwell coming soon)
So far, around 3,000 exoplanets have been discovered and confirmed by the astronomers. However, middle-aged stars that have the ages of a billion years or more host nearly all of them.
“The newborn planet will help us better understand how planets form, which is important for understanding the processes that led to the formation of the Earth,” added co-author Erik Petigura from Caltech.
K2 measured the first signals of the planet’s existence. The planet host star emitted a periodic dimming of the light which was detected by the telescope. This is a sign about the possibility of a an orbiting planet passing regularly in front of the star and blocking the light.
“Initially, this material may obscure any forming planets, but after a few million years, the dust starts to dissipate,” said co-author Anne Marie Cody, a NASA postdoctoral programme fellow. (Also Read: NASA detects first methane leak on Earth from space)
A surprising fact about the discovery of K2-33b is the newborn planet’s closeness to its star. This is nearly 10 times closer to its star compared to the distance between Mercury and the Sun.
Numerous older exoplanets were found orbiting very closely to their stars. Astronomers have been struggling to understand how massive planets wind up in small orbits.
The discovery of K2-33b has given theorists a new data point to ponder. “The question we are answering is: Did those planets take a long time to get into those hot orbits or could they have been there from a very early stage? We are saying, at least in this one case, that they can indeed be there at a very early stage,” David noted in a paper appeared in the journal Nature.