A super-sized alien planet in an extra-large solar system is the focus of a study that will be published next week in the journal Science. Quinn Konopacky, an astronomer with the University of Toronto’s Dunlap Institute for Astronomy & Astrophysics, is the lead author of the paper which will provide new detail about the atmosphere of the huge planet named HR 8799c.
The solar system itself, called HR 8799, is 130 light years away from earth. There are four known planets in the system, all gas giants ranging from three to seven times the size of the largest planet in our solar system, Jupiter. The system as well as the planets are larger than life, with HR 8799c orbiting 40 times further from its sun than the distance from the earth to our sun.
For comparison, Jupiter has a radius of over 43,000 miles and is about 317 times the size of earth. It is orbits the sun at about five times the distance that earth does.
The new study has allowed the team to examine the proportions of certain molecules in the atmosphere in the distant but enormous alien planet. Both CO2 and H2O have been discovered. By comparing the proportions of the carbon and the oxygen, the team got new clues about how the giant-sized solar system formed.
According to Konopacky, it looks like the planetary system formed the same way our own solar system did, which is believed to be a process called core accretion.
That theory says the solar system started as a gassy cloud of dust and other small particles which slowly collapsed under the force of gravity to form the planets. The solar wind pushed very light particles away, leaving the smaller, heavier particles to form rocky planets capable of supporting life like our earth.
The lighter particles like hydrogen were therefore pushed further out to form the gas giants like Jupiter.
Are you starting to get excited? That’s right. Konopacky said that if the alien planetary system did form the same way our smaller solar system did, “it would not come as a surprise to find Earth-like planets closer in.”
[artist’s rendering of the HR 8977 solar system being formed courtesy Dunlap Institute for Astronomy & Astrophysics; Mediafarm]