A young binary system that is located approximately 325 light-years away from us has broken several records in regards to what scientists have found in space thus far. The binary star system called b Centauri contains a gigantic planet that shouldn’t even exist.
The planet, which is called b Centauri b, is about 11 times larger than Jupiter and is one of the heaviest worlds ever found. What’s even more astonishing is that the two stars in the system are between 6 and 10 times heavier than our own sun. This means that b Centauri is by far the largest system that’s ever been found that contains a planet. Furthermore, it is the hottest known system with a planet.
In fact, prior to this discovery, the heaviest known binary system with planets had stars that were about 2.7 times our sun’s mass and the heftiest single star system to have planets contains a sun with about 3 times our solar mass.
The two stars in the b Centauri system are only about 15 million years old and since they are so massive and let off so much heat, it didn’t seem as though any planets would be found there. The main star called b Centauri A is a B-type star that has a temperature of about 32,000 degrees Fahrenheit (almost 18,000 degrees Celsius). To put this into better perspective, it is approximately three times hotter than our sun and much hotter than any other planet-hosting star that has been found to date.
In a statement, Markus Janson, who is an astronomer at Stockholm University in Sweden, stated, “B-type stars are generally considered as quite destructive and dangerous environments.” “It was believed that it should be exceedingly difficult to form large planets around them.” But they did find one massive planet in that system by using the Spectro-Polarimetric High-contrast Exoplanet Research (SPHERE) instrument on the European Southern Observatory's (ESO) Very Large Telescope in Chile.
Additionally, b Centauri b has one of the widest orbits found so far as it is located approximately 550 astronomical units (AU) away from the stars (one AU is the distance that Earth is to our sun). To understand this better, it is about 14 times further away than Pluto is to the sun. This may explain why it has survived as it is far enough away from the extreme radiation.
How the planet formed is still a mystery but there are some theories like perhaps it was created close to the stars but ended up getting tossed further away by gravitational interactions, or maybe it formed where it is currently located. Nevertheless, it is one incredible discovery that has broken many previous planet and star system records. The study was published in the journal Nature.
A picture of the system taken by SPHERE and an artist’s impression of the planet can be viewed here.