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Monday, August 15, 2022

Scientists discovered an infant planet in a stellar nursery

An international team of scientists led by the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa faculty, students, and alumni has recently discovered an infant planet called 2M0437b around a distant infant star. This infant planet was found in a stellar “nursery” called the Taurus Cloud. 

The discovery of this new planet joins a handful of objects advancing our understanding of how planets form and change with time. Observing light from this planet could help unravel its composition and perhaps where and how it formed in a long-vanished disk of gas and dust around its host star.

Scientists reported that the planet formed with its star about several million years ago. In terms of size, it is a few times more massive than Jupiter. It is so young that it is still hot from the energy released during its formation.

The discovery of this infant planet was originally made in 2018 using the Subaru Telescope on Maunakea by UH Institute for Astronomy (IfA) visiting researcher Teruyuki Hirano. For the past several years, it has been studied carefully utilizing other telescopes on the Mauna.

The planet and its parent star
The planet and its parent star lie in a stellar “nursery” called the Taurus Cloud. (Photo credit: NASA)

Using data from Keck Observatory, scientists confirmed that the planet is a companion to its host star. The planet is in a much wider orbit than the planets in the Solar System; its current separation is about one hundred times the Earth-Sun distance, making it easier to observe. However, sophisticated “adaptive” optics are still needed to compensate for the image distortion caused by Earth’s atmosphere.

Co-author Michael Liu, an astronomer at IfA, said“Two of the world’s largest telescopes, adaptive optics technology, and Maunakea’s clear skies were all needed to make this discovery. We are all looking forward to more such discoveries and more detailed studies of such planets with the technologies and telescopes of the future.”

The star that 2M0437b orbits is too faint to be seen with the unaided eye, but currently from Hawaiʻi, the young planet and other infant stars in the Taurus Cloud are almost directly overhead in the pre-dawn hours, north of the bright star Hokuʻula (Aldeberan) and east of the Makaliʻi (Pleiades) star cluster.

Journal Reference:
  1. E. Gaidos, T. Hirano et al. Zodiacal Exoplanets in Time (ZEIT) XII: A Directly-Imaged Planetary-Mass Companion to a Young Taurus M Dwarf Star. arXiv: 2110.08655v1

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