Astronomers directly observe one of the youngest planets to date

It could speak volumes about planetary formation.

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Young planet 2M0437b
Discovery image of the planet 2M0437, which lies about 100 times the Earth-Sun distance from its parent star. The image was taken with the Subaru Telescope on Maunakea. The much-brighter host star has been mostly removed, and the four “spikes'' are artifacts produced by the optics of the telescope. Subaru Telescope and Gaidos, et al. (2021)

Astronomers have spotted young planets before, but rarely this young — or with such easy observation. As CBS News says, a University of Hawaii-led team has discovered 2M0437b, one of the youngest planets ever found at 'just' several million years old. The baby planet was found in the Taurus Cloud "nursery" and young enough that it's still emanating lava-like heat from its birth.

Importantly, this is also a very rare chance at directly observing an infant world. Researchers will still need to use special optics to compensate for Earth's atmosphere, but they won't have to use the host star or other tricks to study the planet. It helps that 2M0437b is about one hundred times further from its star than Earth is from the Sun, reducing the chances for interference.

The scientists first spotted the planet in 2018 using the Subaru Telescope, but spent the next three years using the Keck Observatory and other Hawaii telescopes to track the planet and confirm it was tied to its host.

Future observations could shed more light on planetary formation. It might not take much longer to glean more details, either. The team hoped the imminent James Webb Space Telescope could help detect atmospheric gases and newly forming moons. As significant as 2M0437b might be now, it could be more important going forward.

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