This story caught my attention a few months ago, so I thought I would share it in a blogpost. I’m not sure why it has taken me so long to blog about it, but it is still a newsworthy story.
Astronomers have discovered the exoplanet (which goes by the name 2MASS J21265040−8140293) with the longest period orbit, the planet takes about 1 million years to orbit its parent star. It has been found in orbit about a red dwarf star (a star with a lower mass than the Sun), which affects the calculated size of the orbit. Based on Newton’s form of Kepler’s 3rd law, which I blogged about here, the period of orbit of a planet is given by
where is the period of the orbit (expressed in Earth-years), and are the masses of the star and the planet (expressed in terms of the mass of our Sun), and is the size of the orbit, expressed in Astronomical Units (AUs). An astronomical unit is the average distance between the Earth and the Sun, and is just under 150 million kilometres.
As the parent star for this exoplanet has a lower mass than the Sun, and as the orbiting planet has a mass of about the mass of Jupiter, it has been calculated that its orbit is about 4,500 AUs! For comparison, Pluto orbits at about 40 AUs from our Sun. So, it is a truly huge orbit.You can read the submitted paper here, it was published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society in
Both the parent star and the exoplanet were previously observed, this discovery has been made by looking through data archives. The parent star was discovered in 2006 as part of a programme to observe associations of stars which contained young stars. The exoplanet 2MASS J21265040−8140293 was, as the name implies, observed as part of the 2MASS project, which ran from 1997 to 2001. The exoplanet was identified from the 2MASS images in 2008.
To me this piece of news shows a few things
- That solar systems come in all shapes and sizes. This shouldn’t really be a surprise.
- Trawling through the huge amounts of archived data we have accumulated over the last few decades can lead to exciting discoveries. As most of these archives are freely available, this means that you do not necessarily need to be working at a university with lots of telescope access to make astronomical discoveries.