Astronomer finds planet in the process of forming
The first direct image of a planet in the process of forming around its star has been captured by University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa astronomer Adam Kraus. Karen L. Teramura, UH IfA

Astronomers using the Keck telescope in Hawaii have discovered the youngest planet ever found, capturing it as it was forming around a star.

The Jupiter-sized planet named LkCa 15 b, appears to be a hot "protoplanet" surrounded by cooler dust and gas and is still forming out of the dusty disk around its parent star.

At around two million years old, it is five times younger than the previous record holder. The new alien planet was discovered by University of Hawaii astronomer Adam Kraus, who used the twin 10-metre Keck telescopes on Mauna Kea to capture the first direct image.

"LkCa 15 b is the youngest planet ever found, about 5 times younger than the previous record holder," said Kraus.

"This young gas giant is being built out of the dust and gas. In the past, you couldn't measure this kind of phenomenon because it's happening so close to the star. But, for the first time, we've been able to directly measure the planet itself as well as the dusty matter around it."

The newly forming planet is relatively close to Earth, located just 450-light years away from Earth. It is usually difficult to see such young planets because they are so close to stars that their light outshines them.

In order to capture LkCa 15 b, Mr Kraus used mirrors to cancel out the starlight so were able to see the dust that is gathered near the planet.

"The planet looks like it's approximately six times the mass of Jupiter, though this might be an overestimate," said Kraus in Astronomy Now

"We're assuming all the light comes from the planet, but much of the light - perhaps all of it - could be produced by material that glows as it falls onto the planet. If so, then the planet itself could be much fainter, and hence much less massive."