"It is like looking at our own past."
A team of astronomers from NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) may have discovered the youngest planet in our galaxy — a planet so fresh, in fact, that it's still completely shrouded in its dusty gaseous building blocks, The New York Times reports.
The researchers announced the findings in a paper, published in the journal Astrophysical Journal Letters on Tuesday. In it, they posit that the body is only 1.5 million years old (for context, the Earth clocks in at over 4 billion). A planet this young has never before been identified, and further analysis will likely offer an unprecedented glimpse into how worlds take form.
"It is like looking at our own past," Myriam Benisty, an astronomer at the Institute of Planetology and Astrophysics of Grenoble in France and a coauthor of the study, told the NYT.
The scientists began the study of the celestial newborn last year, using Chile's highly-sensitive Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) telescope. ALMA is sensitive enough to pick up cosmic radio waves, from which scientists are able to derive a wealth of information about celestial bodies.
The NYT reports that with the help of this powerful scope, the scientists were able to determine that the baby exoplanet's parent star, AS 209, was shrouded in a circumplanetary disk — a ring of cosmic dust and gas that orbits certain stars and in which planets, moons, and other rocky bodies can form. Another telling sign of a developing solar system? They additionally discovered that AS 209 only recently started to burn hydrogen. In star years, that means the star is pretty young, too.
Ultimately, the research seems to raise a lot more questions that it answers. The newborn planet, for example, is strangely far from its parent star. But excitingly, the NYT reports that scientists are soon to point the James Webb Space Telescope at the burgeoning solar system — and in learning a bit more about this forming world, we'll hopefully discover a bit more about ours.
READ MORE: Astronomers May Have Found the Galaxy’s Youngest Planet [The New York Times]
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