Astronomers Baffled by Bizarre Solar System
Four gargantuan planets have been observed orbiting a relatively young star approximately 500 light years away.
Known as CI Tau, the star, despite being a mere two million years old, seems to have acquired a perplexing array of gas giants with the most extreme range of orbits astronomers have ever seen.
The largest (and closest) planet is eleven times the mass of Jupiter and completes a single orbit every nine days. The outermost planet however, which is around the size of Saturn, is a staggering 1,000 times as distant – that’s ten times further away than Pluto is to the Sun in our own solar system.
The planets were discovered by a team of astronomers who used the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) to scour the star’s protoplanetary disc for signs of large bodies.
It is possible that the discovery could turn what we know of planetary formation on its head.
“It is currently impossible to say whether the extreme planetary architecture seen in CI Tau is common in hot Jupiter systems because the way that these sibling planets were detected – through their effect on the protoplanetary disc – would not work in older systems which no longer have a protoplanetary disc,” said astronomer Cathie Clarke of Cambridge University.
“Planet formation models tend to focus on being able to make the types of planets that have been observed already, so new discoveries don’t necessarily fit the models.”