Let’s get a couple of things out of the way right up front. First, NASA needs help coming up with names for new space objects. The subject of this article is named OGLE, which is bad enough, but its full name is OGLE-2016-BLG-1190Lb, a string of letters and numbers that would be better in a password (secretly level: medium – needs some special characters). Have they run out of Greek and Roman gods? How about hiring the guy at a record company who names new bands? Second, although the subject of this article may be some new kind of mysterious planet, it’s probably not Planet X nor Nine nor Nibiru.
The object was first discovered in June 2016 by astronomers from the University of Warsaw working on the Optical Gravitational Lensing Experiment, which means they used gravitational microlensing to detect its presence as its gravity bent the light of its star (and used the discovering telescope to come up with the odd ogling name). Its presence 22.000 light years away was confirmed a few days later by scientists using NASA’s orbiting Spitzer telescope.
At this point, the discovery gets exciting enough to publish a paper about it. In the study submitted to the Astronomical Journal, lead author Y-H Ryu of the Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute reveals that OGLE-2016-BLG-1190Lb is something to ogle at – its mass is 13 times that of Jupiter or 4,000 times Earth’s mass, making it one of the largest planets ever discovered … IF it’s a planet. That sort of mass usually indicates an object is a brown dwarf – a non-functioning star that is not performing hydrogen thermonuclear fusion. However, Ogle’s orbit is at a fairly close distance from its star where astronomers have long assumed that gravity would not allow it to exist – they even describe this area as a “brown dwarf desert.”
So what exactly is Ogle? Astronomers can’t decide (there’s nothing more exciting than a competition among astronomers – kind of a Dancing With The Stargazers) so they have to make do with the 2016 pictures and computer models until its three-year orbit puts it in front of its start to cause another microlensing event.
If it’s indeed a giant exoplanet, it “is likely to be the first Spitzer microlensing planet in the Galactic bulge/bar.” ‘Galactic bulge’ – now there’s a good name for the space phenomenon that is the middle of the Milky Way (not to mention a great name for a band or a malady that affects aliens on long space flights with little opportunity for exercising. At the local astronomers betting parlor, the odds favor some sort of failed brown dwarf over giant exoplanet or some new form of orbiting space object. The bookie tells those wanting to place bets on Planet X to go for something with better odds, like the lottery.