A team of researchers has discovered evidence that an extrasolar planet may be forming quite far from its star—- about twice the distance Pluto is from our Sun. The planet lies inside a dusty, gaseous disk around a small red dwarf TW Hydrae, which is only about 55 percent of the mass of the Sun. The discovery adds to the ever-increasing variety of planetary systems in the Milky Way. The research is published in the Astrophysical Journal.
Astronomers using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope have found compelling evidence of a planet forming 7.5 billion miles away from its star, a finding that may challenge current theories about planet formation.
Of the almost 900 planets outside our solar system that have been confirmed to date, this is the first to be found at such a great distance from its star. The suspected planet is orbiting the diminutive red dwarf TW Hydrae, a popular astronomy target located 176 light-years away from Earth in the constellation Hydra the Sea Serpent.
Hubble’s keen vision detected a mysterious gap in a vast protoplanetary disk of gas and dust swirling around TW Hydrae. The gap is 1.9 billion miles wide and the disk is 41 billion miles wide. The gap’s presence likely was caused by a growing, unseen planet that is gravitationally sweeping up material and carving out a lane in the disk, like a snow plow.
The planet is estimated to be relatively small, at 6 to 28 times more massive than Earth. Its wide orbit means it is moving slowly around its host star. If the suspected planet were orbiting in our solar system, it would be roughly twice Pluto’s distance from the sun.
Planets are thought to form over tens of millions of years. The buildup is slow, but persistent as a budding planet picks up dust, rocks, and gas from the protoplanetary disk. A planet 7.5 billion miles from its star should take more than 200 times longer to form than Jupiter did at its distance from the sun because of its much slower orbital speed and the deficiency of material in the disk. Jupiter is 500 million miles from the sun and it formed in about 10 million years.
Read more at: Phys.org