It’s lonely in space. And for this one planet, it’s much more lonely than most other worlds.
A team of astronomers have found the widest planetary system ever discovered.
Interestingly, the planet — with the not-so-sexy name of 2MASS J2126 — and its host star (TYC 9486-927-1) were known to astronomers for years. But they never believed that they were part of a system.
Free-floating planets are giant gas worlds, much like Jupiter, that don’t reach enough mass to ignite to become a star. In the case of 2MASS J2126, U.S. researchers believed it was a young, low-mass object. Then, in 2014, Canadian researchers believed it to belong to a 45-million-year-old group of brown dwarfs (“failed” stars with a mass between 13 to 90 times that of Jupiter and about 1/10 the mass of our sun).
Meanwhile, TYC 9486-927-1 was identified as also being young but not belonging to any particular group of stars.
Niall Deacon, lead author of the Royal Astronomical Society’s paper, had been searching for stars with planets in wide orbits. His team found that 2MASS J2126 and TYC 9486-927-1 were moving through space together, with a distance of about 1 trillion km between them.
“This is the widest planet system found so far and both the members of it have been known for eight years,” said Deacon. “But nobody had made the link between the objects before. The planet is not quite as lonely as we first thought, but it’s certainly in a very long-distance relationship.”
This system is so big that it takes the planet roughly 990,000 years to complete one orbit.
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