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Called 1RXS J160929.1-210524, it is similar in mass to the Sun, but is much younger. Located around 500 light-years from Earth, the planet in the snapshot is around eight times bigger than Jupiter, the biggest in our solar system and lies more than ten times further from its star than the sun does from Neptune.
“This is the first time we have directly seen a planetary mass object in a likely orbit around a star like our Sun,” said David Lafrenière, lead author of a paper submitted to the Astrophysical Journal Letters and also posted online. “If we confirm that this object is indeed gravitationally tied to the star, it will be a major step forward.”
Until now, the only planet-like bodies that have been directly imaged outside of the solar system are either free-floating in space (i.e. not found around a star), or orbit brown dwarfs, which are dim and make it easier to detect planetary-mass companions.
The existence of a planetary-mass companion so far from its parent star comes as a surprise, and poses a challenge to theoretical models of star and planet formation. "This discovery is yet another reminder of the truly remarkable diversity of worlds out there, and it's a strong hint that nature may have more than one mechanism for producing planetary mass companions to normal stars,” said Ray Jayawardhana, team member and author of a forthcoming book on extrasolar planets entitled Worlds Beyond.
The Jupiter-sized body has an estimated temperature of about 1,500ºC, much hotter than our own Jupiter, which has a temperature of about -110ºC, and its likely host is a young star with an estimated mass of about 85 per cent that of the Sun.