Rogue Planet has confirmed its orbit around the “Eye of Sauron”

LONG BEACH, Calif .– Astronomers have confirmed that a controversial exoplanet called Fomalhaut b actually exists and have calculated its potential orbit. The results show that the object is even stranger than scientists might have imagined, calling it a “rogue planet”.

The uncertainty about this object began in 2008, when scientists released an image taken with NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope of a tiny dot of light in the debris disk of a bright young star called Fomalhaut, which located about 25 light years away in the constellation. Piscis Austrinus. At the time, they only presented two data points, showing the exoplanet as it existed in 2004 and 2006. It was a sensational picture – the huge disc of debris made the star look like “the” eye of Sauron “from the Lord of the Rings films – and was one of the first directly imaged extrasolar planets ever to be seen.

But tracking other researchers failed to find the supposed world. The original instrument on Hubble that saw Fomalhaut b broke in 2007 and was never replaced, meaning the team that discovered the exoplanet was also unable to replicate its results. When they spotted it in 2010 with another instrument, the object appeared to have drifted too far to the right to orbit the star. This has led some astronomers to rule out the discovery of Fomalhaut b.

But at the end of 2012, a few other telescopes managed to take images of the exoplanet. And now the original team has presented their own new data. “We have three times as many orbits and there you see it very clearly in 2012,” said astronomer Paul Kalas of the University of California at Berkeley and the SETI Institute, pointing to a new image released today. hui at a press conference here at the American Astronomical Society Meeting 2013.

This move suggests to Kalas and his team that Fomalhaut b is a rogue planet, acting much more like a comet or icy body in our solar system’s Kuiper belt, which usually orbits far from the sun but can sometimes come close to it. . Astronomers believe the mass of the exoplanet is at least as much as a frozen dwarf world, like Sedna in our solar system, but it could be as large as Jupiter. Either way, this is unlike anything seen in our own system and shows that the architecture of other planetary systems could differ greatly from ours.

Image: NASA, ESA and Paul Kalas (University of California, Berkeley and SETI Institute). Video: Paul Kalas (UC Berkeley)

Arline J. Mercier

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