Astronomers discover infant planet

Astronomers discover infant planet

To date, astronomers have discovered over 3,000 planets orbiting around stars outside of our solar system, also known as exoplanets.  Astronomers at Caltech recently discovered what they believe to be the youngest fully-formed exoplanet to date, at approximately 5 to 10 million years old.  The researchers used the Kepler Space Telescope to discover the young planet, now being called K2-33b.  The planet's existence was validated using the Keck Observatory in Hawaii.

A paper detailing the discovery was in the June 20th advance online issue of the journal Nature, according to Caltech news.  One of the authors of the paper, Trevor David, compared the young planet's age to that of Earth.

"At 4.5 billion years old, the Earth is a middle-aged planet—about 45 in human-years.  By comparison, the planet K2-33b would be an infant of only a few weeks old."

The researchers knew this was a young planet due to the amount of gas and dust surrounding its parent star.  This is known as a protoplanetary disk, as these are the materials that eventually lead to the formation of planets around a star.

The astronomers studying the star estimate it to be about six times the size of Earth, which would be about 50% larger than the gas giant, Neptune.  The planet orbits its star in only about five days, which tells the astronomers that the planet is likely about twenty times closer to its star than the Earth is to the Sun.

According to the researchers, the next step will be to measure the planet's mass and calculate its density.  This will help them determine what lies in the future for the young planet.

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