Scientists had established some pretty precise models for what exactly planets are and under what conditions they can exist, but the Universe is always ready to prove us a little wrong. Therefore, the discovery of a new planet enters the spotlight, and what’s unique about it is that it exists unexpectedly close to its host star.
A giant planet candidate about the same size as Jupiter is transiting the white dwarf WD 1856+534 every once 1.4 days.
Should we throw textbooks about planet formation out the window?
The discovery defies what science teaches us in textbooks about planet formation, and Andrew Vanderburg, who is an assistant professor of astronomy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, explains to us why:
“The explanation that we think is the most likely is that there were other planets in the system or other objects in the system,” Vanderburg said.
“We know that there are two other stars orbiting this white dwarf very far away. Maybe they could have exerted some influence on this planet that we saw back when it was orbiting far away originally because it had to be orbiting far away, or it would have been engulfed. It could have changed its orbit so that it was very, very elliptical, and then when it came in close to the star, it just barely grazed the surface.”
However, there’s another possible and pretty wild explanation, according to the same Vanderburg. He adds that the host star would have swallowed the peculiar planet, but the smaller object still had enough heft to save itself.
But things become even more exciting considering both this new discovery and the detection of the phosphine gas from Venus’ atmosphere. Thus, Vanderburg says that scientists could be soon focusing their attention on new types of planets in their search for extraterrestrial life.
The new study was published in the journal Nature.