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ScienceShot: Lonely Planet Orbits Nearly Ten Times Farther Out Than Pluto

18 June 2010 1:49 pm
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Now that's a lonely planet! Astronomers have discovered a world orbiting its star from 50-billion-kilometers away—or nearly 10 times farther out than Pluto is from our sun. Shown here in two different wavelengths of infrared light, the planet is following an orbit that takes about 6000 years to complete. How did such a large body form so far away from its sun? Reporting in an upcoming issue of The Astrophysical Journal, astronomers say the same cloud of dust and gas that gave birth to the star—known as 1RXS JI60929.1-210524 and located about 450 light-years away in the constellation Scorpius—probably split apart, which is what often happens when binary star systems are born. Except that in this case, the fragment was too small to produce anything but a very large, very cold, and extremely isolated planet.

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*This item has been amended to provide additional information.

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