Most planets found by astronomers are “old” – they’re fully formed after millions of years pulling together elements around their star.
But researchers just located a baby giant exoplanet orbiting a young star just 330 light-years from Earth, making it the closest of its kind to us.
The planet is known as 2MASS 1155-7919 b, and it’s located in Epsilon Chamaeleontis Association, a young group of stars seen in our southern sky near the Chameleon constellation.
Researchers from the Rochester Institute of Technology made the discovery using data collected by the European Space Agency’s Gaia space observatory.
The discovery was published recently in the Research Notes of the American Astronomical Society.
The planet orbits a five million-year-old star, which is a thousand times younger than our own sun. But, unusually, it’s very distant from the star, orbiting at 600 times the distance from the Earth to the sun.
“The dim, cool object we found is very young and only 10 times the mass of Jupiter, which means we are likely looking at an infant planet, perhaps still in the midst of formation,” said Annie Dickson-Vandervelde, lead study author and astrophysical sciences and technology Ph.D. student at Rochester Institute of Technology.
Future observations could tell scientists how the planet ended up at such a distance from its star. This could provide greater insight about wide orbits of massive planets. But the discovery itself helps astronomers study the process of gas giant formation.
“Though lots of other planets have been discovered through the Kepler mission and other missions like it, almost all of those are ‘old’ planets,” Dickson-Vandervelde said.
“This is also only the fourth or fifth example of a giant planet so far from its ‘parent’ star, and theorists are struggling to explain how they formed or ended up there.”