Observation of a “newborn” planet outside the solar system


An international team of scientists has spotted one of the smallest planets found outside the solar system, 400 light-years away.

This is not surprising, as scientists have discovered thousands of exoplanets, planets outside the solar system. What makes this exoplanet special is that astronomers have obtained a direct image of it, an almost rare feat.

The planet bears the name 2M0437b, and it is one of the smallest exoplanets that scientists have ever obtained a direct image of.

This discovery could contribute to understanding the process of planet formation, which in turn could help advance the understanding of how the solar system formed and evolved over time.

“This surprising discovery adds to the elite list of planets we can observe directly with our telescopes,” said astronomer Eric Gaidos of the University of Hawaii.

He continued: “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 has long disappeared around its host star.”

There are a few reasons why it is difficult to image exoplanets directly, including that compared to the stars that orbit them, exoplanets are very small and faint, which means that they are usually too faint to be seen using current telescope technology.

Instead, we usually discover exoplanets based on the effect they have on their host stars. If an exoplanet passes between us and the star in its orbital path, we can detect small periodic changes in the star’s light.

In addition, an exoplanet would also exert a faint gravitational effect on the star (as objects orbit a common center), causing the star to “shake” slightly, shifting the wavelength of its light slightly.

These signals are easy to detect when the planet is very massive and very close to the star, so the majority of confirmed exoplanets are massive and in close orbits. But exoplanets in very close orbits are difficult to image directly, because they tend to be significantly outnumbered by their host stars.

The exoplanet 2M0437b is very large, but very far from its host star, 2M0437 – about 100 AU (for comparison Pluto is about 40 AU from the Sun).

Exoplanets far from their star are usually too cold to emit infrared radiation, but here 2M0437b’s youth plays a role.

Because it is a few million years old, the “newborn” exoplanet is still relatively warm from intense planet formation processes, at about 1,400 to 1,500 K (1,127 to 1,227 °C, or 2,060 to 2,240 °F). This means that it glows dimly in the infrared, enough to be seen at a distance of 417 light-years.

Scientists estimate that 2M0437b has a mass several times greater than Jupiter and that it formed with its star several million years ago. The planet is so small that it is still warm from the energy released during its formation, with a temperature similar to that of the lava from the Kilauea volcano.

Astronomers first observed 2M0437b in 2018, through the Subaru telescope (located at the summit of Mauna Kea on the Big Island in Hawaii and operated by the National Astronomical Observatory’s Hawaii Observatory in Japan), and then spent three years using the Keck Observatory and other telescopes in Hawaii To track and determine his relationship with the host star.

Astronomer Adam Krause of the University of Texas at Austin said: “The remarkable data from the Keck Observatory allowed us to confirm that the faint neighbor is moving in space with its star, and therefore is a true companion. Eventually, we may even be able to measure its orbital motion around the star.”

The team believes that the new system would be an excellent candidate for following up on observations using the Hubble Space Telescope.

So far, the star and its exoplanet have been observed using ground-based observatories, which need to correct for the effect of the twisting of the Earth’s atmosphere on starlight. Hubble does not have this problem.

And these observations should be able to help constrain the star’s properties. It is not known exactly how old it is or its mass. Scientists may be able to detect chemical signals in 2M0437b’s atmosphere, which in turn could reveal a lot of information about how it formed.

“We all look forward to more of these discoveries, and more detailed studies of such planets with future technologies and telescopes,” said astronomer Michael Liu of the University of Hawaii.


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