Astronomers have discovered an infant planet called the K2-33b that is orbiting really close to a distant star. While the discovery of new exoplanets is not new, with Kepler and Hubble Telescopes having revealed no fewer than 3000 planets, but all these planets are in their mid-late stages of life.
The K2-33b, however, is an infant in astronomical terms and will allow astronomers to answer some questions about the early stages of planetary life cycle. This planet was first discovered as a periodic dip in light from its parent star, detected by the Kepler Space Telescope. Later observations by W. M. Keck Observatory, Hawaii and Spitzer Space Telescope confirmed that the system still plays host to a depleted protoplanetary disk, meaning that planetary formation had, at least in astronomical terms, only just concluded.
The K2-33b is slightly larger than Neptune and is roughly 5-10 million years old. Compared to our earth, which is 4.5 billion years old, it is still in its infancy. It is the youngest exoplanet discovered to date and is orbiting extremely close to its parent star, a feat that does not go hand in hand with the current theories of planetary formation.
Normally, a planet as big as the K2-33b should be fairly distant from its sun but this planet revolves in an orbit around its sun that is 10 times smaller than the orbit of Mercury around our sun. Astronomers are at loss to explain this anomaly. Older planets tend to move closer to their parent stars but in such early stages, such a close orbit is unheard of. The process is thought to take millions of years and due to this, it is possible that this planet and its orbit was created through some process unaccounted for by the current models for planetary formation.
Further research is under way to understand this newest exoplanet.