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Hawaiian telescope takes an image of a just lately shaped child planet

We have discovered thousands of planets outside of our solar system, but the vast majority of them have been observed indirectly by seeing how the planet affects the star it orbits around. Recently, astronomers had the rare pleasure of observing an exoplanet face to face – and it is one of the youngest planets ever found.

Planet 2M0437b orbits far from its star, about 100 times the distance between the earth and the sun, and has a mass many times the mass of Jupiter. It originated a few million years ago, which is the blink of an eye on cosmic timescales, and it is so young that it is still hot from the energy released during its creation.

A direct image of the planet 2M0437, which is approximately 100 times the Earth-Sun distance from its parent star. The picture was taken by the IRCS at the Subaru telescope on Maunakea. Most of the much brighter host star has been removed, and the four “spikes” are artifacts created by the telescope’s optics. Subaru telescope

The planet was first discovered with the Subaru Telescope on Maunakea, Hawaii, and then further observed with the nearby W. M. Keck Observatory. Even with the planet’s vast distance from its star and size, it took another three years of observation to identify the planet’s presence and image it.

“This accidental discovery adds to an elite list of planets that we can observe directly with our telescopes,” lead author Eric Gaidos, a professor at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa, said in a statement. “By analyzing the light of this planet, we can say something about its composition and perhaps where and how it formed around its host star in a long-vanished disk of gas and dust.”

The summit of Maunakea, Hawai'i at night, with the two Keck telescopic domes in front on the right.The summit of Maunakea, Hawaii at night, with the two Keck telescopic domes in the front right. W. M. Keck Observatory

In the future, researchers want to see if they can measure the planet’s orbital motion around its star, and future telescopes like the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope could even be used to see the gases in its atmosphere or a lunar-forming disk of. to discover around it.

“This discovery required two of the largest telescopes in the world, adaptive optics technology, and the clear skies of Maunakea,” said co-author Michael Liu, an astronomer at the Institute of Astronomy. “We are all looking forward to more such discoveries and more detailed studies of such planets with the technologies and telescopes of the future.”

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