The boundlessness and mystery of space always opens up the possibilities of new discoveries at any moment – and the newest one is changing the way scientists are looking at planet-hosting stars.
A study in the journal Nature revealed a giant planet has been found orbiting a young binary star system, called b Centauri, about 325 light-years away from Earth. The newly found planet, named b Centauri (AB)b or b Centauri b, is about 10 times as massive as Jupiter, the largest planet in the solar system.
“Finding a planet around b Centauri was very exciting since it completely changes the picture about massive stars hosting planets,” the study’s lead author Markus Jansen, an astronomer at Stockholm University, said.
b Centauri b was discovered using the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (VLT), along with the mounted Spectro-Polarimetric High-contrast Exoplanet REsearch instrument (SPHERE). According to the ESO, b Centauri has six times the mass of the Sun, which makes it the most massive system where a planet has been discovered. It also becomes the hottest planet-hosting system, and is three times as hot as the Sun.
The discovery is notable, as it disapproved a belief that B-type stars — which possess surface temperatures between 10,000 to 30,000k — couldn’t support a sizeable planet due to their nature. “B-type stars are generally considered as quite destructive and dangerous environments. It was believed that it should be exceedingly difficult to form large planets around them,” Jansen explained.
The observatory said that b Centauri b’s orbit is one of the widest that have ever been discovered – it has a distance 100 times greater than Jupiter from the sun. Taking into account the binary B-Star’s harshness, b Centauri b’s orbital distance could be necessary for it in order for it to avoid the intense emitted radiation.
This isn’t the first time that b Centuari has been captured – Imaging of it was actually done nearly 20 years ago by another telescope, but it was not recognized as a planet at the time.
b Centuari b now becomes the latest exoplanet, or a planet outside of the Solar System, to be discovered. To date, 4,576 exoplanets have been located, while there have been 3,393 systems with confirmed planets found.
Speaking to ESO, study co-author and Stockholm University PhD student Gayathri Viswanath emphasized just how different the environment of b Centauri b is from what we know and experience on Earth and in our system.
“It’s a harsh environment, dominated by extreme radiation, where everything is on a gigantic scale: the stars are bigger, the planet is bigger, the distances are bigger.”
Jansen noted that it’s currently a mystery as to how b Centauri b formed, but said that finding out the answer will be an “intriguing task.” ESO explained that with upgrades to the VLT and the Extremely Large Telescope (ELT) to start making observations within the decade, more about b Centauri b, such as its formations and features, will be studied.
Jasen said in an email to NBC News that the discovery has motivated him and his team to expand on a survey titled BEAST, which is currently examining 85 similar stars. Jasen also acknowledged his belief that the field will see an increased search intensity for high-mass stars in order to confirm planets and characterize them.
Andrew Rhoades is a Contributing Reporter at The National Digest based in New York. A Saint Joseph’s University graduate, Rhoades’ reporting includes sports, U.S., and entertainment. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.