A newly discovered exoplanet is the closest world outside of our Solar System to be directly photographed. A team of astronomers used the COol Companions ON Ultrawide orbiTS survey to detect the exoplanet that they have named COCONUTS-2b which is located in the COCONUTS-2 planetary system that is only 35 light-years away from us.
COCONUTS-2b is actually pretty rare as it is relatively cool compared to other exoplanets; it’s an exceptionally large gas giant; and it orbits its low-mass red dwarf star at a very far distance away. More specifically, it has a temperature of about 322 degrees Fahrenheit (161 degrees Celsius); it has a mass about six times that of Jupiter; and it orbits its host star at a distance of a whopping 6,471 astronomical units away. To put this into better perspective, the average distance of Earth to our sun is equal to one astronomical unit which means that COCONUTS-2b is over 6,000 times further way. Additionally, it takes the planet about 1.1 million years to complete a full orbit around its star. Another interesting fact is that it is a relatively young planet at about 800 million years of age.
Zhoujian Zhang, who is an astronomer at the University of Hawaiʻi Institute for Astronomy, stated, “With a massive planet on a super-wide-separation orbit, and with a very cool central star, COCONUTS-2 represents a very different planetary system than our own Solar System.”
When exoplanets are detected, it is usually by one of two ways. The transit method is when a planet travels between Earth and its host star which causes the star’s light to dim. The second method is called radial velocity (or “wobble” method) which is when the star’s wavelength changes (or wobbles) slightly when the planet orbits around it. But since COCONUTS-2b is located 6,471 astronomical units away from its star, it was visible in direct photographs.
Since experts were able to directly photograph it, future observations of the planet may help researchers learn more about gas giants and how they form. “With its huge orbital separation, COCONUTS-2b will be a great laboratory for studying the atmosphere and composition of a young gas-giant planet,” said astronomer Michael Liu from the University of Hawai'i. (The image of COCONUTS-2b can be seen here.)
The study was published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters where it can be read in full.