One of the youngest worlds ever detected, a 'baby' planet more than 400 light years from Earth found

It's called 2M0437b and it orbits a very young star more than 400 light-years from Earth. It is one of the youngest planets ever found. So much so that it is still hot from the energy released during its formation, with a temperature similar to that of volcanic lava. The planet and its parent star are in a stellar "nursery" called the Taurus Molecular Cloud.

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Planets have been discovered thousands of stars around, but this is of recent formation and can be observed directly, according to a statement. the Subaru Telescope, of Japanese management but located in Hawaii, USA.

The finding of 2M0437b adds to that of other objects that advance our understanding of how planets form and change over time, helping to shed new light on the origin of the Solar System and Earth.

"This serendipitous discovery adds to a unique list of planets that we can observe directly with our telescopes," explains lead author Eric Gaidos, a professor in the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Hawaii (UH) in Mānoa. "By analyzing the light from this planet we can tell something about its composition, and perhaps where and how it formed in a disk of gas and dust that disappeared long ago around its host star."

Researchers estimate that the planet is several times more massive than Jupiter, and that it formed with its star several million years ago, around the time the major Hawaiian islands first emerged from the ocean.

Mauna Kea Telescopes

In 2018, 2M0437b was first seen with the Subaru telescope on the Mauna Kea volcano by UH Institute of Astronomy (IfA) visiting researcher Teruyuki Hirano (currently a NAOJ / Astrobiology Center researcher). Over the past few years, it has been carefully studied using other telescopes on Mauna Kea

Gaidos and his collaborators used the WM Keck Observatory on Mauna Kea to monitor the position of the host star as it moved across the sky, confirming that planet 2M0437b is indeed a companion to the star, and not a more distant object. The observations took three years because the star moves slowly across the sky.

2M0437b is in a much wider orbit than the planets in the Solar System; their current separation is about one hundred times the distance between the Earth and the Sun, which facilitates their observation. However, sophisticated "adaptive" optics are still needed to compensate for image distortion caused by Earth's atmosphere.

"Two of the largest telescopes in the world, adaptive optics technology and the clear skies of Mauna Kea have been necessary to make this discovery," says co-author Michael Liu, an astronomer at IfA. "We are all looking forward to more such discoveries and more detailed studies of these planets with the technologies and telescopes of the future."

Future research potential

The compilation of more in-depth research on the newly discovered planet might not be too far off. "Observations with NASA's Hubble Space Telescope and the early launch of the James Webb Space Telescope could identify gases in its atmosphere and reveal whether the planet has a moon-forming disk," adds Gaidos.


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