Scientists were shocked to find this baby exoplanet in a death spiral brought about by its own host star.
The search for habitable planets outside of our own solar system has turned up some interesting results, but so far scientists have yet to find a planet within the range of the Earth that may have the potential to support life. According to a Washington Post report, the most recent discovery revealed not another Earth-like candidate, but a newborn “baby planet” that is currently being ripped apart by its own host star.
The planet, called PTFO 8-8695 b, likely formed sometime in just the past 2 million years. Rising from the gas and debris surrounding a star in the constellation Orion, the planet grew to be twice the size of Jupiter. It whips around its sun at a breakneck pace, completing a full orbit in just 11 Earth hours.
The planet was also remarkable because of its size relative to the age of its host star; researchers long believed that no gas giant could exist around such a young star. There may be a reason this is the first time such a planet has been observed however; the sun’s gravity is slowly but surely stripping away the planets mass as it follows its orbital path.
According to Rice University astronomer Christopher John-Krull, the planet is likely too close to its host star to maintain equilibrium. “We don’t know the ultimate fate of this planet. We’ll keep looking at this star,” he said.
The planet was first discovered years ago, as astronomers studied its host star. As they watched, they observed periodic dips in the star’s brightness, suggesting that a planet or some other body was circling it at regular intervals.
Scientists aren’t sure if the planet will continue to lose mass until it disappears completely, or if the rate of loss will eventually taper down and the planet assumes a new more stable form. John-Krull hopes to continue studying the strange planet in an effort to learn more about the forces at work.
A press release from Rice University describing the details of the study can be found here.