Earth, as a planet, is on the relatively small side of things. Sure, Mercury, Venus, and even Mars are smaller, but compare Earth to the giants of our solar system, Saturn and Jupiter. Jupiter has a diameter that is more than 11 times that of Earth! Now astronomers have spotted a new planet that’s bigger than Jupiter. Much bigger. The new planet, which was discovered using NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, is named OGLE-2016-BLG-1190Lb. It is calculated to be over 13 times the mass of our solar system’s largest planet.
This new planet is so huge that scientists are wondering if it is even a planet at all! Now, before you go getting all excited that we’ve found the Death Star or some other intergalactic fictional space station, know that there may be a more logical explanation for the potential planet’s size.
It is possible that the new discovery is actually a brown dwarf. Brown dwarfs are sometimes called failed stars, and, like a true star, generate heat. However, brown dwarfs are much weaker than main sequence stars, and are unable to produce nuclear fusion like our sun does.
Essentially they are masses that are too large to be planets and too small to be stars. The size requirement for classification of a planet comes in somewhere less than 13 to 14 times the mass of Jupiter, causing OGLE-2016-BLG-1190Lb to be right around the cut-off point.
Whatever it is, the new discovery is located some 22,000 light years away, which means we can’t exactly go check to see if it is a planet or a brown dwarf. However, through further observation, astronomers may be able to gain more information.
The potential planet may be the first discovered inside what is called the galactic bulge. This is the very core of our galaxy and it is quite a chaotic location. Many stars reside here, but it is generally inhospitable to planets. To find a true planet here would be very exciting indeed.
OGLE-2016-BLG-1190Lb was discovered using a complicated technique called microlensing. This involves measuring the light between stars. A closer star’s gravity will magnify the light of one further behind it, and if there is a planet orbiting the first star, its presence can be detected by measuring the light of the star in behind. The size of a potential planet can be found by measuring how much light is blocked and for how long. Only a handful of new planets have been discovered this way.
Whether you believe in aliens or not, this new discovery is very exciting news. However, time will tell if it really is a new planet, or just a brown dwarf. Who knows? Maybe it will turn out to be the Death Star after all. Anyone got Luke Skywalker’s phone number? And speaking of planets and theories; we just just had to share this amazing movie theory with you. Could it really be true that The Lion King is set in the Planet of the Apes universe? Just hear us out…