"It's like we have an array of small mirrors," said Kraus. "We can manipulate the light and cancel out distortions." By doing this, the bright light emitted by the star can be canceled out, resolving the faint disks and gaps therein where baby worlds may be hiding. In one of those gaps, LkCa 15 b resides.
The study has been accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal.
"We realized we had uncovered a super Jupiter-sized gas planet, but that we could also measure the dust and gas surrounding it. We'd found a planet, perhaps even a future solar system at its very beginning," he adds.
Kraus and Ireland intend to continue surveying other nearby stars to see if similar worlds are forming in the ultimate hope of understanding the planetary formation processes that built our own solar system.
Image: The circumstellar disk surrounding the star LkCa 15 (left). Zoomed in, with the light from the star canceled out, the location of the protoplanet can be seen - the red and blue "blob" (right). Credit: Kraus & Ireland 2011