This picture is a little odd, I admit. And it's not 100% certain it is what it's thought to be. But if it is
what it's thought to be, then it's worth putting in this list. And I think it is. What it's thought to be, I mean.
So what is it? It may very well be an image - the very first image ever - of a planet caught in the act of formation. How cool is that?
It's name is LkCa 15b, and the image was taken by the massive 10-meter Keck telescope in Hawaii. This is an infrared image, where the blue and red colors indicate different colors of IR light. Astronomers were observing a very young star (the position of which is marked in the image by the star shape) known to have a disk of material surrounding it, the kind that forms planets. The disk is actually an annulus, like a DVD with a hole in the middle. The hole is not completely devoid of matter, though. This picture is a closeup of a part of the material in the hole, and it may very well be that the blue spot is a planet, and the red swirl is material falling onto the planet - in other words, the planet is still forming from junk orbiting the star!
The researchers make a pretty good case of eliminating other possibilities (a background star or galaxy, for example) and all in all it really does look like they caught this planet while it was still accreting material. Like I said, it's not 100% certain, but the data look pretty convincing to me. It may turn out to be something else - there's always that possibility when doing cutting edge science - but either way, it's a very odd object and worth further study. And if it does turn out to be an infant planet, then it's an amazing discovery, and will be a boon to the science of planetary formation.
Image credit: Kraus and Ireland