Magazine article USA TODAY

Planet Found That Shouldn't Be There

Magazine article USA TODAY

Planet Found That Shouldn't Be There

Article excerpt

An international team of astronomers, led by a graduate student from the University of Arizona, Tucson, has discovered the most distantly orbiting planet found to date around a single, sun-like star. This exoplanet--a planet outside of the Milky Way--weighs in at 11 times Jupiter's mass and orbits its star at 650 times the average Earth-sun distance.

In fact, HD 106906 b is unlike anything in our own solar system and throws a wrench in planet formation theories. "This system is especially fascinating because no model of either planet or star formation fully explains what we see," says Vanessa Bailey a fifth-year graduate student in the Department of Astronomy.

It is thought that planets close to their stars, like Earth, coalesce from small asteroid-like bodies born in the primordial disk of dust and gas that surrounds a forming star. However, this process acts too slowly to grow giant planets far from their star. Another proposed mechanism is that giant planets can form from a fast, direct collapse of disk material. However, primordial disks rarely contain enough mass in their outer reaches to allow a planet like HD 106906 b to form. Several alternative hypotheses have been put forward, including formation like a mini binary star system.

"A binary star system can be formed when two adjacent clumps of gas collapse more or less independently to form stars, and these stars are close enough to each other to exert a mutual gravitation attraction and bind them together in an orbit," Bailey explains. …

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