Mysterious object blurs the distinction between planets and stars
Giant planet 11 times mass of Jupiter orbits like a binary star.
An incredibly massive planet has been discovered orbiting a star at an amazing distance. The discovery is challenging what scientists think they know about planetary formation.
The planet is also has 11 times the mass of Jupiter which is also incredible.
The planet was photographed by the Magellan Telescope in Chile's High Atacama desert. The telescope uses new technology to correct for atmospheric distortion which gives its images a clarity that matches those captured by the Hubble Space Telescope.
Scientists believe that planets, especially large ones, should form from rock and dust close to their parent star. Our Solar System is the textbook example of this. Under current models, massive planets should not form at such a distance from their parent star.
In other words, what they have observed should be impossible.
The planet is also estimated to be quite young, just 13 million years old. Compare that with Earth and the other planets of our solar system, which are about 5 billion years old.
Despite the eye-popping incongruity with current models, scientists believe they have a theory which could account for the massive planet and its place in orbit. The planet may actually be a failed star which started to form, then ran out of material to grow.
Stars and planets form as dust and gas clump together in space and eventually enough material is gathered that a planet forms. Above a certain point, the material, mostly hydrogen, which is the most abundant element in the universe, will fuse and cause the clump of matter to become a star instead of a planet.
However, if the clump cannot accrete enough material, it will never switch on because there is too little pressure to begin fusion in its core. This is how Jupiter-sized planets form.
Scientists think the latter scenario is the correct one in this case. Given the young age of the planet, they think it is actually a failed star that could not accrete enough mass to turn on. It happens to orbit at the correct distance.
Still, it's a rare and impressive find, and one that reminds us that despite what we think we know, we only know a fraction of what's out there.
A birth foretold: click here to learn more!
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