The Subaru Telescope has imaged an enormous gas giant planet or possibly tiny brown dwarf orbiting the bright star Kappa Andromedae.
Called Kappa Andromedae b, or Kappa And b, the object is located 170 light-years away.
Its mass is around 12.8 times that of Jupiter, making it either a massive planet or a low-mass brown dwarf—a substellar object with insufficient mass to shine. It is therefore referred to as a super-Jupiter.
“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,” explained study co-author Michael McElwain at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in a press release.
“But this isn’t definitive, and other considerations could nudge the object across the line into brown dwarf territory.”
Massive planets slowly emit remnant heat from their formation, but objects with a mass greater than about 13 Jupiters—the lowest possible mass for a brown dwarf—are believed to be capable of producing energy via deuterium fusion.
“Kappa And b, the previously imaged planets around HR 8799 and Beta Pictoris, and the most massive planets discovered by non-imaging techniques likely all represent a class of object that formed in much the same way as lower-mass exoplanets,” said study co-author Joseph Carson at Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in the release.
Large stars are thought to produce large planets, but this may only apply up to a certain size, because the radiation from more massive stars would prevent planet formation in the circumstellar disk.
“This object demonstrates that stars as large as Kappa And, with 2.5 times the sun’s mass, remain fully capable of producing planets,” Carson said.
Kappa And b probably orbits its star at about 55 times Earth’s average distance from the sun. Its temperature is around 2,600 degrees Fahrenheit (1,400 Celsius), and it would look bright red if viewed up close.
The findings will be published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.
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