Illustration for article titled Mystery object orbiting distant star baffles astronomers

500 light years away, nestled in the constellation Scorpius, scientists have found an object that shouldn't exist. Eight times larger than Jupiter, the object is in distant orbit around a very young star. And it breaks the laws of physics.


At least, it breaks the laws of physics as we understand them when it comes to planet formation. And that's why astronomers are questioning whether this seemingly planet-like object is, in fact, a planet. Discovery News' Irene Klotz reports on what scientists are saying:

"There is no theory for how a true planet can form at 300 AU (astronomical units, with one unit equal to 93 million miles, the mean distance between Earth and the sun). It's not really a lack of imagination. It's a lack of physics," California Institute of Technology astronomer John Johnson told Discovery News.

Current theories, observations and computer models show that planets form from a disk of gas and dust that circles young stars. Less material is available as the distance to the parent star grows.

"You actually have to have material out there to have the planet forming," Johnson said.

Another option is that the object, designated as 1RXS J160929.1-210524 b and located about 500 light-years away in the constellation Scorpius, is a new type of failed star — something akin to a brown dwarf, though about half the size — which formed along with the primary star about 5 million years ago.

But scientists similarly are at a loss to explain how such a relatively small object could have survived the stellar birthing process.

"The models show it's difficult to successfully produce a low-mass object next to a much more massive object," said University of Montreal astronomer David Lafreniere, who lead a team that photographed the object in 2008, the first time a planet beyond the solar system was directly imaged.


I think we all know what's going on here. It's a hollowed-out planet that an advanced civilization uses as a spacecraft, which fell into orbit around the star after vacuum vampires slaughtered the crew. It's the most obvious explanation.

via Discovery News

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