NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope and its extended K2 mission allowed astronomers to discover the youngest fully formed exoplanet, K2-33b. The WM Keck Observatory on Mauna Kea, Hawaii also helped in discovery of this new found planet. Exoplanets are planets that orbit stars beyond our sun.
The finding was published online on 20 June 2016 in journal Nature.
• The planet K2-33b is nearly 10 times closer to its star than Mercury is to our sun, making it hot.
• K2-33b is a bit larger than Neptune and whips tightly around its star every five days.
• It is only 5 to 10 million years old, making it one of a very few newborn planets found to date.
• The discovery of exoplanet K2-33b so close to its star has given the theorists new data point to ponder. They argue that the closeness of K2-33b could be explained either through the ‘theory of disk migration or the ‘theory of in-situ formation’.
• As per the former theory, the exoplanet might have migrated so close in a process called disk migration that takes hundreds of thousands of years. On the other hand, later theory puts that planet might have formed in-situ – right where it is.
• The first signals of the planet's existence were measured by K2.
• The telescope's camera detected a periodic dimming of the light emitted by the planet's host star, a sign that an orbiting planet could be regularly passing in front of the star and blocking the light.
• Data from the Keck Observatory validated that the dimming was indeed caused by a planet, and also helped confirm its youthful age.
• Infrared measurements from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope showed that the system's star is surrounded by a thin disk of planetary debris, indicating that its planet-formation phase is wrapping up.
• Astronomers have discovered and confirmed roughly 3000 exoplanets since the discovery of first massive exoplant 20 years ago. However, nearly all of them are hosted by middle-aged stars, with ages of a billion years or more.