Scientists have discovered a new exoplanet orbiting one of the brightest young stars known. This changes our understanding of planet formation.

The new-found system is almost 45 million years old. The discovery sheds light on planet formation.

Scientists observed this exoplanet (Ds Tuc Ab) in the Dartmouth research. The planet is no longer growing, but, because of its young age, it is still undergoing rapid changes. Researchers found the radiation coming from its star is destroying the planet’s atmosphere.

Astronomers found this exoplanet with the NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS). While they have already found thousands of exoplanets, they have detected only a handful rotating around young stars.

Planets can take billions of years to reach maturity but astronomers can’t observe that process in real-time. So that’s why they are hunting planets around young stars to catch the process in action and learn more about their formation and evolution.

“One of the overall goals of astronomy is understanding the big picture of how we got here, how solar systems and galaxies take shape and why. By finding solar systems that are different from our own – especially young ones – we can hope to learn why Earth and our own solar system evolved in the ways that they did,” said Elisabeth Newton, an assistant professor of physics and astronomy at Dartmouth College.

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Ds Tuc Ab is bigger than Neptune but smaller than Saturn or about six times the size of Earth. It lies about 150 light-years away from Earth. The exoplanet has two suns and makes one full orbit around its main star in just eight days.

Astronomers first observed this exoplanet with NASA’s TESS satellite in November of 2018. But the Dartmouth team confirmed it in March using data from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope and other ground- and space-based observatories, such as the South African Large Telescope (SALT).

“We were really excited when we confirmed this discovery because the planet orbits such a bright, well-known young star. Our whole team worked together to learn everything we could about this solar system,” said Newton.

Data on the brightness of a young star led to the discovery of exoplanet DS Tuc Ab. Red arrows mark ‘transits’ where the planet crossed between Earth and the planet’s host star. The large, smooth variations are caused by the star, a result of its youth. Credit: Elisabeth Newton

“The star’s brightness lets us study the planet in detail because the more photons you have the better statistics you have. A discovery of this sort with such a unique age and an unusual planet size would not be possible without TESS.”

Planets are bigger when they first form but become smaller after some time as they cool and lose atmosphere.

So because the planet is still taking shape, the team expects to detect atmosphere evaporation in action. By understanding this process scientists hope to predict what may happen to the exoplanet throughout the following billions of years and see how atmospheric getaway may have influenced older planets, including Earth.

“We hope that by seeing this planet’s atmosphere, we can provide a snapshot of what planets look like at a young age,” said Newton.

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