Say hello to 2M0437b, one of the youngest planets ever discovered whose existence has finally been confirmed by astronomers.
Orbiting a young red dwarf star just 400 light years from our solar system, it took astronomers three years of observations to confirm the existence and now directly image the planet 2M0437b, larger than Jupiter.
It was first found in 2018 and is a rare find. Not only did 2M0437b newly formed millions of years ago – a newborn virtual star in astronomical terms – but it joins an elite list of relatively close exoplanets in the solar system that can be directly observed and even imaged by astronomers. Typically, the existence of exoplanets is inferred from the data.
It could help astronomers learn how planets form and change over time.
Here’s the amazing image, which took three years to create:
The photo of the alien planet explained
In this image, taken using the Subaru Telescope in Maunakea, Hawaii, the brightest host star, 2M0437, has been removed, allowing planet 2M0437b to appear (the four light points are artifacts produced by the telescope optics).
“This chance discovery adds to an elite list of planets that we can observe directly with our telescopes,” said lead author Eric Gaidos, professor in the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Hawaii Mānoa . “By analyzing the light from this planet, we can tell something about its composition, and perhaps where and how it formed in a long-lost disk of gas and dust around its host star. “
The research is expected to be published shortly in the Monthly notices from the Royal Astronomical Society and is now available online as a preprint.
“The exquisite data from the Keck Observatory allowed us to confirm that the faint neighbor moves in space with his star, and is therefore a true companion,” said Dr Adam Kraus, professor in the Department of Astronomy at if Texas University at Austin and co-author of the article.
What we know about 2M0437b
Planet 2M0437b is about 400 light years from us and is about 100 times the Earth-Sun distance from its mother star. This enormous distance makes observation easier than usual.
2M0437b is a few times more massive than Jupiter and would have formed millions of years ago. He is so young that he is still hot because of the energy released during his training.
The host star is an “M-type” or red dwarf in a star-forming region of the Milky Way galaxy called the Taurus Cloud. Although you cannot see the small star with the naked eye, it is located north of the bright star Aldebaran and east of the Pleiades open star cluster.
“Eventually, we might even be able to measure its orbital motion around the star,” Kraus said.
How 2M0437b was discovered
Scientists used the WM Keck Observatory on Maunakea to monitor the position of the host star as it moved across the sky. They used the second generation near infrared camera (NIRC2) from the Keck Observatory in combination with the Adaptive Optics (AO) system from the Keck II telescope.
Although the observations took three years because the star moves slowly across the sky, the researchers were able to confirm that 2M0437b was a companion to the star rather than a more distant object.
The key telescope technology that has enabled them to do this – and which enables telescopes on the ground to find objects like 2M0437b – is AO.
AO is able to correct the distortion caused by the turbulent atmosphere of the Earth. This is important because all of this hot, moving air makes the stars seem to twinkle and blur.
AO uses computers to slightly warp the telescope’s mirrors, correcting any distortion. It works by using a bright star as a control (guide star or NGS), with the system monitoring how fuzzy and distorted it is. When there are no bright stars, lasers can be used to artificially create a bright spot (adaptive laser guide star optics or LGS AO).
“Two of the world’s largest telescopes, adaptive optics technology and the clear sky from Maunakea were all needed to make this discovery,” said co-author Michael Liu, astronomer at the University of Hawaii at the University of Hawaii. Mānoa Institute for Astronomy (IfA).
What’s next for 2M0437b
It is hoped that more data can be collected on 2M0437b, not only by other ground telescopes, but by space telescopes in orbit. “Observations with space telescopes such as NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and the soon-to-launch James Webb Space Telescope could identify gases in its atmosphere and reveal whether the planet has a lunar disk,” Gaidos said.
I wish you clear skies and big eyes.