Gigantic Jupiter-type planet reveals insights into how planets evolve

A team of astrophysicists studying an enormous and bizarre young planet approximately 300 lights years from Earth has gained a rare glimpse into the final stages of planetary evolution.

The planet, known as HD 106906b, was discovered in 2014 by a team of scientists from the U.S., the Netherlands and Italy. It is 11 times the mass of Jupiter and is extremely young by celestial standards — not more than 13 million years old, compared with our solar system’s 4.6 billion years.

“This is such a young star; we have a snapshot of a baby star that just formed its planetary system — a rare peek at the final stage of planet formation,” said Smadar Naoz, a UCLA assistant professor of physics and astronomy, and a co-author of the study.

Furthermore, other planet’s unusual characteristics is its distance from its star. Astronomers opine that the vast majority of planets outside of our solar system exist inside a vast dusty disk of debris relatively close to the center of the solar system. But HD 106906b is far beyond its solar system’s disk — so far away that it takes 1,500 years for the planet to orbit its star.

HD 106906b is currently at least 650 times as far from its star as the Earth is from our sun. “Our current planet formation theories do not account for a planet beyond its debris disk,” Naoz said.

The planet’s orbit is elliptical; it gets much closer to the star on one side of its orbit than on the other side. And its gravity produces an elliptical shape in the disk as well. One side of the disk is closer to the star than the other side, and the dust on that side is warmer and glows brighter as a result. The debris disk was photographed in 2016 by American and European astronomers. According to Naoz, the disk is an analog to our solar system’s Kuiper belt, an enormous cluster of small bodies like comets and minor planets located beyond Neptune.

“In our solar system, we’ve had billions of years of evolution,” said Michael Fitzgerald, UCLA associate professor of physics and astronomy, and the study’s other co-author.

Naoz said the researchers’ conclusions do not require any exotic physics or hidden planets to explain them, which is not always the case in studying other solar systems.

“There are no assumptions; this is just physics,” she said.

Source: Materials provided by sciencedaily.com

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