The universe continues to present us with exciting and mysterious surprises.
What the heck is that giant exoplanet doing so far away from its star? Astronomers are still trying to figure out the curious case of HD 106906 b, a newly found gas giant that orbits at an astounding 650 astronomical units or Earth-sun distances from its host star. For comparison, that’s more than 20 times farther from its star than Neptune is from the sun.
“This system is especially fascinating because no model of either planet or star formation fully explains what we see,” stated Vanessa Bailey, a graduate astronomy student at the University of Arizona who led the research.
Many headlines are heralding the discovery:
- This planet shouldn’t exist (Wired.co.uk)
- Astronomers detect a planet that shouldn’t exist (Yahoo.com)
- ‘Impossible’ Alien World is Impossible. Yet There It Is (Discovery.com)
Much emphasis is placed on the “shouldn’t exist” soundbite, but Universe Today explains why this discovery is important:
HD 106906 b is 11 times the size of Jupiter, throwing conventional planetary formation theory for a loop. Astronomers believe that planets gradually form from clumps of gas and dust that circle around young stars, but that process would take too long for this exoplanet to form — the system is just 13 million years old. (Our own planetary system is about 4.5 billion years old, by comparison.)
This discovery is distinctive because of what we might learn about star systems and planetary formation. It’s certainly not the first time that we’ve found a “planet that shouldn’t exist.” Discovered in 2009, WASP-18b weighs in (“masses in”?) at ten Jupiters, orbiting its star in less than one earth day. But the most recent holder of the “Shouldn’t Exist” title was discovered earlier this year. Kepler-78b is an Earth(ish)-sized rock whose orbit makes it extraordinary; its orbit is 40 times closer than that of Mercury to our Sun!
*Yes, we are aware that The Doctor’s last name is not “Who.”
- How the Heck Did This Exoplanet Get Where It Is? (Phil Plait on Slate)