Technology & Science

Canadian scientists confirm new solar system

Canadian scientists have found more evidence that a massive planet — eight times the size of Jupiter — is in fact part of another solar system.

Canadian scientists have found more evidence that a massive planet — eight times the size of Jupiter — is in fact part of another solar system.

A team of researchers, led by University of Montreal astrophysicist David Lafrenière, confirmed that the huge sphere is orbiting a sun-like star, evidence that the two bodies are related. The relationship is important because Lafrenière and his two co-authors estimated the distance between the planet and its sun at 300 times the approximately 150 million kilometres of our earth to its sun.

While the size of the new planet is impressive, what concerns scientists is in fact how far the sphere is from its host star. That is because, according to researchers, the newly-discovered planet represents the smallest body that orbits its own sun at such a great distance.

The solar system is known as 1RXS J160929.1-210524 (or 1RXS 1609 for short).

Distance changes thinking

When Lafrenière and his colleagues first discovered the new celestial body back in 2008, they needed to make further observations to ascertain whether the planet and its sun were related and not randomly placed in space.

In an article in an upcoming edition of the Astrophysical Journal, Lafrenière and University of Toronto astronomers Ray Jayawardhana and Marten van Kerkwijk say they have confirmed that, in fact, the planet is rotating around its nearest star. 

The team used high-resolution adaptive optics technology at the Gemini Observatory site in Chile.

"Back in 2008 what we knew for sure was that there was this young planetary mass next to a young, sun-like star," said Lafrenière

Equally interesting, the extreme distance between planet and star now gives scientists a different perspective on the origins of celestial bodies.

"[This] could be telling us that nature has more than one way of making planets. Or, it could be hinting at a violent youth when close encounters between newborn planets hurl some siblings out to the hinterlands," Jayawardhana said.

Corrections

  • The size of the new planet referenced above is eight times the size of Jupiter. Incorrect information was included in an earlier version of the story.
    Oct 15, 2013 11:47 PM ET