Feeds

Astroboffins spot HOT, YOUNG GIANT where she doesn't belong

No one understands her, but she's far out, man

High performance access to file storage

Pix An international team of astroboffins has spotted an enormous exoplanet with such an improbably large orbit around its host star that it could turn cosmological theory on its head.

Artist's conception of exoplanet HD 106906 b

No this isn't a Hubble snap with lens flare, it's an artist's conception of
the newly discovered exoplanet and its host star (click to enlarge)

"This system is especially fascinating because no model of either planet or star formation fully explains what we see," said research lead Vanessa Bailey, a fifth-year graduate student at the University of Arizona's Department of Astronomy.

At 11 times Jupiter's mass, exoplanet HD 106906 b is a big 'un, indeed, but its distance from its host star is what's truly astonishing: it's 650 times as far from its star than Earth is from ol' Sol – about 60 billion miles. It's both HD 106906 b's size and its distance from its host that confound the research team.

Current theory holds that planets close to their stars, such as our own, are formed from agglomerations of asteroids and chunks of matter that formed in the disk of gas and dust that surrounded their star in its youth. This process, however, is too slow to form giant planets far from their suns.

Those giants are thought to be formed in a quick collapse of materials in the primordial disk orbiting a young star. All well and good, but at a distance such as is being traversed by HD 106906 b, those disks rarely have enough material to coalesce into a planet as large as the one discovered by Bailey and her team.

One other possibility that the team has proposed is that a binary star system was involved in the exoplanet's formation.

"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 explained.

"It is possible that in the case of the HD 106906 system the star and planet collapsed independently from clumps of gas, but for some reason the planet's progenitor clump was starved for material and never grew large enough to ignite and become a star."

Comparison of orbital distance of exoplanet HD 106906 b from its star and the size of Uranus' orbit

To borrow a phrase from the swingin' sixties, HD 106906 is 'far out, man'

Maybe so, but when that process happens it usually involves two stars with a differences in masses that is no more than 10 to one.

"In our case, the mass ratio is more than 100-to-1," she explains. "This extreme mass ratio is not predicted from binary star formation theories – just like planet formation theory predicts that we cannot form planets so far from the host star." At 13 million years old, HD 106906 b is also a relative babe when compared to our 4.5-billion-year-old Earth. As a hot-blooded youth – about 2,700°F (1,500°C) – it's still glowing in the infrared spectrum from the residual heat left over from its formation.

The team spotted the exoplanet using the 6.5 meter-diameter Magellan telescope in the Atacama Desert in Chile, recently fitted out with the University of Arizona's Magellan Adaptive Optics (MagAO) and Clio2 thermal infrared camera systems (both links PDFs).

As MagAO principal investigator Laird Close explains, "MagAO was able to utilize its special Adaptive Secondary Mirror, with 585 actuators, each moving 1,000 times a second, to remove the blurring of the atmosphere. The atmospheric correction enabled the detection of the weak heat emitted from this exotic exoplanet without confusion from the hotter parent star."

The Clio2 system contributed to the discovery because it's a heat-seeker, optimized for the thermal infrared wavelengths at which a hot young thing such as HD 106906b emit their radiation.

For more information – and far more technical data – you can check out the team's paper (PDF), accepted for future publication in The Astrophysical Journal Letters and entitled "HD 106906 b: A planetary-mass companion outside a massive debris disk". ®

High performance access to file storage

More from The Register

next story
IBM Hursley Park: Where Big Blue buries the past, polishes family jewels
How the internet of things has deep roots in the English countryside
Video games make you NASTY AND VIOLENT
Especially if you are bad at them and keep losing
Russian deputy PM: 'We are coming to the Moon FOREVER'
Plans to annex Earth's satellite with permanent base by 2030
Solar-powered aircraft unveiled for round-the-world flight
It's going to be a slow and sleepy flight for the pilots
LOHAN's Punch and Judy show relaunches Thursday
Weather looking good for second pop at test flights
Honeybee boffin STINGS OWN WEDDING TACKLE... for SCIENCE
Not the worst place to be stung, says one man
India's GPS alternative launches second satellite
Closed satnav system due to have all seven birds aloft by 2016
Curiosity finds not-very-Australian-shaped rock on Mars
File under 'messianic pastries' and move on, people
prev story

Whitepapers

Mainstay ROI - Does application security pay?
In this whitepaper learn how you and your enterprise might benefit from better software security.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
3 Big data security analytics techniques
Applying these Big Data security analytics techniques can help you make your business safer by detecting attacks early, before significant damage is done.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Mobile application security study
Download this report to see the alarming realities regarding the sheer number of applications vulnerable to attack, as well as the most common and easily addressable vulnerability errors.