The "super-Jupiter" Kappa Andromedae b, shown here in an artist's rendering, circles its star at nearly twice the distance that Neptune orbits the sun. With a mass about 13 times Jupiter's, the object glows with a reddish color. (Photo : NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/S. Wiessinger )
Using a rare direct photo, astronomers have discovered a new planet 13 times the size of Jupiter orbiting the massive star Kappa Andromedae, Space.com reported on Monday. The star, which is more than twice as big as our sun, is located 170 light-years away from Earth.
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A new planet, which is on the cusp of being classified as a giant planet and a brown dwarf failed star, is being called a "super-Jupiter," stated Space.com. The "super-Jupiter" has officially been named Kappa Andromedae b, or Kappa And b, scientists said.
In a statement released on Monday, Michael McElwain, a member of the discovery team at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, said, "According to conventional models of planetary formation, Kappa And b falls just shy of being able to generate energy by fusion, at which point it would be considered a brown dwarf rather than a planet."
"But this isn't definitive, and other considerations could nudge the object across the line into brown dwarf territory," McElwain added. A brown dwarf is a type of failed star about the size of Jupiter, "with a much larger mass but not quite large enough to become stars," NASA said.
According to scientists, Kappa And b formed in a similar way to other low-mass exoplanets, by coming together from a "protoplanetary disk" of material orbiting a growing star.
Kappa Andromedae, the star this super-Jupiter is orbiting, is relatively young when compared to the sun, 30 million years old to the sun's roughly 5* billion years of age. Astronomers previously believed that stars that large could not create planets that way but this new discovery appears to dispute that belief.
Space.com reported that the photo, which led to the discovery, was captured by Japan's Subaru 8-meter telescope on the summit of Mauna Kea in Hawaii. The photo, which is extremely difficult to capture, forced astronomers to look in infrared light and use a technique to hide Kappa Andromedae's glare.
NASA officials added that Kappa Andromedae is visible to Earth-bound stargazers. The planet's discovery will appear in the next issue of the Astrophysical Journal Letters.
*Correction: A previous version of the story misreported the sun's age as 50 billion years old, when in actuality it is only 5 billion years old.