In Extreme Solar Systems III, an international meeting on exoplanets, scientists shared recent research on a planet that was seemingly pushed to the very edge of its own solar system. The planet, named HD 106906, is so far away from its star that researchers thought it might have been formed like a companion star—not an orbiting planet.
Surprisingly, this planet orbits out at a distance that is a staggering 16 times farther than the distance between Pluto and our Sun.
During an online news conference, study author Paul Kalas said that whether or not it formed like a binary star was a debate almost since the moment of its discovery: “That was an open question for almost a year. Now we sort of have an answer to what may have happened here.”
Images from the Gemini Planet Imager and the Hubble Space Telescope found a lopsided comet system that orbits the star, which the researchers believe indicates a recent and violent disturbance within that solar system.
Kalas explains that “The planet is misaligned with the plane of the comet system, so we think the whole system has recently been disturbed by some violent gravitational interaction, though we’re not sure exactly what happened. Something recently happened that kicked it out.”
Notably, scientists assert that something similar happened in our own solar system during its early days. It is believed that our system once had more than its current eight planets; however, it is thought that Jupiter ejected them from our solar system.
The team asserts that it is possible a similar massive planet is responsible for kicking HD 106906 b out of its home. Yet, it is also possible that a passing star might have caused the upset.
This solar system is far younger than our own, just 13 million years old (for comparison, ours is some 4.5 billion years old). As such, watching how it transforms and could help astronomers learn something about our own past.