LkCa15: a young exoplanet caught at formation?

Adam L. Kraus*, Michael J. Ireland

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

295 Citations (Scopus)


Young and directly imaged exoplanets offer critical tests of planet-formation models that are not matched by radial velocity surveys of mature stars. These targets have been extremely elusive to date, with no exoplanets younger than 10-20 Myr and only a handful of direct-imaged exoplanets at all ages.We report the direct-imaging discovery of a likely (proto)planet around the young (∼2 Myr) solar analog LkCa 15, located inside a known gap in the protoplanetary disk (a "transitional disk"). Our observations use non-redundant aperture masking interferometry at three epochs to reveal a faint and relatively blue point source (MK′ = 9.1±0.2, K′-L′ = 0.98±0.22), flanked by approximately co-orbital emission that is red and resolved into at least two sources (M L′ = 7.5±0.2, K′ -L′ = 2.7±0.3; ML′ = 7.4±0.2, K′ -L′ = 1.94±0.16).We propose that the most likely geometry consists of a newly formed (proto)planet that is surrounded by dusty material. The nominal estimated mass is ∼6MJup according to the 1 Myr hot-start models. However, we argue based on its luminosity, color, and the presence of circumplanetary material that the planet has likely been caught at its epoch of assembly, and hence this mass is an upper limit due to its extreme youth and flux contributed by accretion. The projected separations (71.9±1.6 mas, 100.7±1.9 mas, and 88.2±1.8 mas) and deprojected orbital radii (16, 21, and 19 AU) correspond to the center of the disk gap, but are too close to the primary star for a circular orbit to account for the observed inner edge of the outer disk, so an alternative explanation (i.e., additional planets or an eccentric orbit) is likely required. This discovery is the first direct evidence that at least some transitional disks do indeed host newly formed (or forming) exoplanetary systems, and the observed properties provide crucial insight into the gas giant formation process.

Original languageEnglish
Article number5
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 20 Jan 2012


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