NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope spots the youngest planet now named K2-33b. K2-33b is a five to 10-million-year-old fully formed exoplanet, slightly bigger than Neptune, that orbits its star every five days.
The findings published on June 20 in the journal Nature state that it is a hot planet. Lead author Trevor David of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena says that its distance to its star is 10 times nearer than Mercury is to the sun.
It is one of the few newborn planets discovered so far. Since it is essentially a newborn, it could help us understand how planets form.
Of all the confirmed 3,000 exoplanets, almost all of them are middle-aged or around billions of years old. To reveal the mystery behind how planets are born, scientists have to study it from the beginning.
Considering its size and distance, the research team is baffled by its small orbit. Usually, bigger planets have bigger orbits and are placed far away from their star.
However, some have tried to explain this issue. Some scientists say that planets are pushed farther away from a star within hundreds of millions of years. Since K2-33b is still young, it may take a while before it settles farther away from its star.
Others have also pointed out that its position is simply where it originally is. Some stars are just born near a star while others are born farther away.
However, no one knows exactly which one of these is right. Fortunately, further studies on K2-33b may settle the debate once and for all.
The Kepler Space Telescope’s camera noticed occasional dimming of light from the previously unknown exoplanet’s star. This dimming is usually caused by planets passing in front of a star.
Data analysis confirmed the existence of K2-33b. Further observations revealed that the star of the youngest planet is surrounded by a thin disk of fragments from planets, which is also called protoplanetary disk.
Co-author Anne Marie Cody, from NASA’s Ames Research Center, explains that this is a sign that the system’s planet-formation phase is coming to a close. Thicker debris disk occurs when planets are just forming out of thick disks of gas and dust.