Updated 12:24 PM EDT, Tue, Sep 22, 2020

Massive Planet So Far Out That It 'Shouldn't Be There'

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In what can only be described as a freak observation, the very first exoplanet discovered by University of Arizona researchers is so far out and bizarre that some have started calling it the "planet that shouldn't be there."

Despite orbiting a sun-like star, planet HD 106906 b is nothing like scientists have ever seen before. Planet HD 106906 b weighs as much as 11 Jupiters and orbits its star at a whopping distance of 650 times the average Earth-sun distance. The average distance between the Earth and the sun is around 92 million miles. This puts planet HD 106906 b around 60 billion miles from its star.

"This system is especially fascinating because no model of either planet or star formation fully explains what we see," said research leader Vanessa Bailey from the University of Arizona.

Struggling to find a plausible explanation, scientists theorize that the planet's formation could have been more akin to a binary star system rather than a typical planet-star relationship.

Normally, planets tend to form near their star from the surrounding material of debris that appears as the star takes form. This birthing process, however, fails to explain the incredible distance between planet HD 106906 b and its star.

Thinking of the parent star and planet HD 106906 b as a binary star system, however, helps explain the large distance since it means the two bodies formed independently. It could be that planet HD 106906 b simply never received enough cosmic food to ignite and become a star. Still, normal binary star systems usually contain a 10 to 1 mass ratio.

"In our case, the mass ratio is more than 100-to-1," Bailey explained. "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."

Planet HD 106906 b is only 13 million years old and its star system still contains leftover remnants of the debris disk from which the planet and its star formed, making researchers excited about what new information about planet formation the system holds despite its initially bizarre countenance.

"Discoveries like HD 106906 b provide us with a deeper understanding of the diversity of other planetary systems," said co-researcher Tiffany Meshkat from the Leiden Observatory in the Netherlands.

You can read the full published study detailing the findings in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

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