Pink Planet Discovered


The giant pink planet discovered 57 light-years from Earth has astronomers questioning current planet formation theory.

Through infrared imaging, astronomers have taken photos of a giant, magenta-hued planet orbiting its sun, 57 light-years from Earth.

Astronomers have discovered a giant, glowing, dark magenta planet — dubbed GJ 504b  — that has the lowest mass of any planet ever photographed around a sun-like star outside our own solar system, according to NASA.

The pink "exoplanet" is about the size of Jupiter, but is about four times the mass. (The mass of a planet is determined by how much matter it contains, which is different from weight, which increases with more gravitational pull.) The scientists believe it has a temperature of around 460 degrees Fahrenheit.

Besides its color, the planet is unusual because of its distance from its sun, GJ 504 or 59 Virginis — nearly nine times the distance Jupiter orbits the sun, or 43.5 astronomical units. (One astronomical unit is the distance from the Earth to the sun, or about 92,955,807 miles) The sheer distance makes astronomers start to question some of the theories they have around how planets form.

"This is among the hardest planets to explain in a traditional planet-formation framework," said Markus Janson, a Hubble postdoctoral fellow at Princeton and one of the researchers on the project. "Its discovery implies that we need to seriously consider alternative formation theories." At the very least, assessing basic assumptions in the current popular planet formation theory would be important, said Janson in a NASA release.

Infrared photos of the planet were taken by the Subaru Telescope on Mauna Kea in Hawaii. The approximately 160 million-year-old star system in which the exoplanet resides orbits around the star GJ 504, and is approximately 57 light-years from Earth. Especially exciting is the fact that GJ 504 is about only 1/30th the age of our own sun, says Michael McElwain, a member of the discovery team at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.  "Studying these systems is a little like seeing our own planetary system in its youth."

Skywatchers can find GJ 504, and its pink cohort,  in the constellation Virgo.

>> Giant pink planet discovery flips popular theories