(ORDO NEWS) — Most of the more than 4,300 confirmed exoplanets discovered to date have something in common – a relatively close orbit to their star.
Now astronomers have discovered something unusual – a giant exoplanet in a bizarre 15,000-year orbit around a binary star. Scientists have been able to characterize such a huge orbit for the first time.
The exoplanet is called HD 106906 b, and its clock frequency is 11 times the mass of Jupiter. It orbits a pair of hot, yellow-white main sequence stars called HD 106906; These stars are only 15 million years old and orbit each other in just 100 days. The entire system is 336 light-years away.
While the place as a whole is very different from our solar system, HD 106906 b’s huge orbit resembles an elusive object that astronomers hope to find closer to home – a hypothetical ninth planet with an extremely large orbit.
“This system allows for a unique comparison to our solar system,” said astronomer Meiji Nguyen of the University of California, Berkeley.
“It is very far removed from its stars in an eccentric and highly displaced orbit, as predicted for Planet Nine. This [raises] the question of how such planets formed and evolved to eventually accept their current configuration.”
HD 106906 b, first discovered in 2013, is an exoplanet that has been directly imaged. In most cases, exoplanets are too faint and too close to their parent star for this, but HD 106906 b does not disappear into the bright glow of binary stars.
However, calculating the exoplanet’s orbit was not easy. To do this, the research team needed data from the Hubble Space Telescope. Over 14 years of work in the archives, they managed to obtain more data on the slowly changing position of HD 106906 b.
As you can imagine, an exoplanet in an orbit of 15,000 years won’t move much in 14 years, but that was enough for astronomers to be able to put the orbit together.
There are serious doubts about the existence of the Ninth Planet, but HD 106906 b shows not only that such a strange orbit is possible, but also that it can happen relatively early in the life of the planetary system.
“There are still many open questions about this system,” said astronomer Robert De Rosa of the European Southern Observatory in Chile.
“It is likely that both observers and theorists will study HD 106906 b for many years, solving many of the mysteries of this remarkable planetary system.”
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