Astronomers discover a large planet orbiting its star 6,000 instances the gap between the earth and the solar

Tracking exoplanets is difficult – especially when that exoplanet is so far from its parent star that the “transit” method normally used to watch it dim the star’s light itself is ineffective. But it really helps when the planet is huge and has its own infrared light no matter how far it is from its star. At the very least, these properties enabled a team of scientists from the University of Hawai’i to track a specific exoplanet called (and we’re not kidding) Coconuts-2b.

We at UT are no stranger to quirky astronomical names, but the Cool Companions on Ultrawide Orbits (Coconuts) poll could take the cake. This new planet, which appeared in the survey, is nearly six times the size of Jupiter and orbits its star an astonishing 6,000 times the distance from Earth to the Sun.

Star field from the WISE survey showing the two planets of the Coconuts 2 system around its host star.
Credit – NASA / WISE / Zhang et al.

This incredible distance made the planet’s original explorers in 2011 with WISE believe it was “rogue,” meaning that it was not gravitationally tied to any particular star. They could only see it because the planet itself is still glowing with waste heat built up during the formation of the planets, which is visible in the infrared spectrum.

But new research shows that Coconuts-2b is actually gravitationally bound to a star, L 34-26, as well as an absurdly long distance. The system to which it is tied is not even too far from Earth – at 35 light years, it is one of the closest of the 4,000 exoplanets found to date. Nor is it even the planet furthest from its parent star – that honor goes to planet 2MASS J21265040-8140293, which is separated from its parent star TYC 9486-927-1 by a staggering 7400 AU. These names, how much more attractive a name like “Coconuts 2b” really is.

Different spectra of the Coconut 2 system.
Credit – NASA / UNWISE & Melina Thevenot

Aside from the names, the experience on one of these worlds would be so different from the experience as we know it here on earth. Aside from crushing gravity, the time of day and night seem to be almost the same on the planet. The star it orbits would simply appear as a bright red star in a similarly filled sky.

Not only does the planet offer an interesting thought experiment on what it would be like to live on such a world, but it also offers some insight into the formation and evolution of planets, especially for large gas giants like our own Jupiter and Saturn. Perhaps its unique name will attract even more attention, allowing the planet to take its place as a major outlier among the many exoplanet discoveries in recent years.

Learn more:
cnet – Meet Coconuts-2b, an exoplanet six times the mass of Jupiter
Forbes – Astronomers are crazy about the closest exoplanet ever directly imaged: COCONUTS-2b
SciTech Daily – Massive discovery of the exoplanet COCONUTS: Giant planet just 35 light years from Earth
arXiv – The Second Discovery from the COol Companions ON Ultrawide orbitS (COCONUTS) Program: A Cold Wide-Orbit Exoplanet around a Young Field M Dwarf at 10.9 pc

Mission statement:
Illustration of Coconuts-2b in orbit around its 6000 AU distant red dwarf star.
Credit – B. Bays (Soest / UH)

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