National Geographic News
A pink exoplanet.

An illustration of the magenta exoplanet, still glowing from the heat of its formation.

Illustration courtesy S. Wiessinger, NASA

Jane J. Lee

National Geographic

Published August 8, 2013

There is a pink exoplanet circling a star very much like our own, 57 light-years away from Earth. But its origins are a mystery.

In a new study announcing the magenta gas giant, researchers were able to directly image this exoplanet using the Subaru telescope on Hawaii. The color of this blushing body indicates it has less cloud cover than other observed exoplanets, meaning researchers can peer even deeper into its atmosphere to divine its components. (Related: "For First Time, Astronomers Read Exoplanet's Color.")

"If we could travel to this giant planet, we would see a world still glowing from the heat of its formation with a color reminiscent of a dark cherry blossom, a dull magenta," said Michael McElwain, an astrophysicist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Facility in Maryland and a study co-author, in a statement.

It's one of only five or six exoplanets whose presence has been directly imaged by a telescope, rather than inferred from observing stars, said Markus Janson, an astrophysicist at Princeton University and a co-author of the new study.

Other planets that have been directly imaged orbit much more massive stars, he added. "In that sense, [the pink planet] feels a bit closer to home." (Related: "First Pictures of Alien Planet System Revealed.")

At about 460°F (237°C), this gas giant probably wouldn't be a very pleasant place to visit. But researchers are still interested in this lightweight—it's one of the lowest-mass exoplanets found around a sun-like star using direct detection methods. (Related: "Smallest Exoplanets Found—Each Tinier Than Earth.")

Ejected

It orbits about 43 astronomical units (AUs) away from its parent star, much farther out than Neptune's orbit (30 AUs) around the sun.

The wide gulf between this exoplanet and its star puts it outside the conventional area expected for planet formation.

In a mechanism called the core accretion model, bits of rock, dust, and ice in the disk of material around a young star collide and stick together until the solid lump grows to the size of a planet.

But this tends to happen close in to a star, said Janson. "Because [this planet] is so far out, it's very hard to see how it formed by core accretion."

The jostling amongst budding planets in a young solar system could have resulted in a collision that ejected the pink exoplanet out to its current orbit, said McElwain in an interview. (Related: "Youngest Planet Confirmed; Photos Show It Grew Up Fast.")

But planet formation is an evolving field, and this is just one possible explanation, he added.

So Far Away

McElwain and colleagues would also like a better sense of this magenta giant's orbit.

Something 43 AUs from its star would take more than a hundred years to complete an orbit, McElwain said.

But because of its orientation with respect to Earth, it's very possible this exoplanet is even farther away from its star.

The shape of the exoplanet's orbit would also lend further clues as to its formation. If it's on a very eccentric—or non-circular—orbit, that would support the scattering hypothesis, McElwain said.

A More Complete Picture

This is why it's important to get as complete a picture as possible on the types of exoplanets out there, said Adam Burrows, an astrophysicist at Princeton University and a study co-author.

And high-contrast imaging—the technique used to directly detect exoplanets—could really help with that. "[It] is starting to come into its own after being a secondary or tertiary means of discovering planets," he said.

Several telescopes coming online in the next year or two will be even better at picking up the faint glow given off by exoplanets, Burrows added.

Previous exoplanet-detection techniques work on bodies close in to their stars. But high-contrast imaging will tell us more about planets farther away from their parent stars, he said.

20 comments
D J
D J

Planet Claire has pink air and all the trees are red.....

Michaela Upp
Michaela Upp

In the printed magazine "Beyond Our Galaxy" this planet is discussed and it is listed as 57 billion light years away...which is clearly incorrect. Just had to mention that.

Izabelle Cammarata
Izabelle Cammarata

Its Pink!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! YAYYAYAYAYAYAYAYAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Toni K.
Toni K.

Can we re-name it Pinkie Pie or Pinkie Planet?

Connie Koehler
Connie Koehler

When I realize that I know nothing, I will continue to learn. And for me, a humbled opened mind will allow me to learn as much as I am willing and able to learn, even if I was the smartest person ON Earth. :)

John C.
John C.

A giant flaming pink heavenly body; I vote to name it Planet Liberace. Fabulous!

Joshua Jerrick
Joshua Jerrick

Very interesting. I would want to know what it's atmosphere is made of though.

Babu Ranganathan
Babu Ranganathan

SCIENCE SHOWS THAT THE UNIVERSE CANNOT BE ETERNAL because it could not have sustained itself eternally due to the law of entropy (increasing energy decay, even in an open system). Einstein showed that space, matter, and time all are physical and all had a beginning. Space even produces particles because it’s actually something, not nothing. Even time had a beginning! Time is not eternal. Popular atheistic scientist Stephen Hawking admits that the universe came from nothing but he believes that nothing became something by a natural process yet to be discovered. That's not rational thinking at all, and it also would be making the effect greater than its cause to say that nothing created something. The beginning had to be of supernatural origin because natural laws and processes do not have the ability to bring something into existence from nothing. What about the Higgs boson (the so-called “God Particle”)? The Higgs boson does not create mass from nothing, but rather it converts energy into mass. Einstein showed that all matter is some form of energy.

The supernatural cannot be proved by science but science points to a supernatural intelligence and power for the origin and order of the universe. Where did God come from? Obviously, unlike the universe, God’s nature doesn’t require a beginning.   EXPLAINING HOW AN AIRPLANE WORKS doesn't mean no one made the airplane. Explaining how life or the universe works doesn't mean there was no Maker behind them. Natural laws may explain how the order in the universe works and operates, but mere undirected natural laws cannot explain the origin of that order. Once you have a complete and living cell then the genetic code and biological machinery exist to direct the formation of more cells, but how could life or the cell have naturally originated when no directing code and mechanisms existed in nature? Read my Internet article: HOW FORENSIC SCIENCE REFUTES ATHEISM.

WHAT IS SCIENCE? Science simply is knowledge based on observation. No one observed the universe coming by chance or by design, by creation or by evolution. These are positions of faith. The issue is which faith the scientific evidence best supports.

Visit my newest Internet site: THE SCIENCE SUPPORTING CREATION

Babu G. Ranganathan*
(B.A. Bible/Biology)

Author of popular Internet article, TRADITIONAL DOCTRINE OF HELL EVOLVED FROM GREEK ROOTS

*I have given successful lectures (with question and answer period afterwards) defending creation before evolutionist science faculty and students at various colleges and universities. I've been privileged to be recognized in the 24th edition of Marquis "Who's Who in The East" for my writings on religion and science.

David Carlson
David Carlson

GJ 504b

An alternative hypothesis suggests that giant masses spin off from their protostars during gravitational collapse due to excess angular momentum of the collapsing star, and if these masses are gravitationally unstable, they may go on to collapse, forming proto-planets.

Proto-planets in turn may bifurcate due to excess angular momentum during their own gravitational collapse, forming binary planets that spiral out ('evaporate') from their progenitor stars due to core-collapse perturbation.  Core collapse converts energy and angular momentum from the binary planetary components into 'heliocentric' orbit inflation, explaining the 43 AU distance of the gas-giant planet, GJ 504b without resorting to an ad hoc "collision that ejected the pink exoplanet out to its current orbit".

Jane Lee
Jane Lee expert

@Joshua Jerrick That's one the things researchers would like to find out about the planet. I don't think they've gotten that far yet.

Nicole G.
Nicole G.

Sooo... because we still haven't discovered exactly how the universe began it must be god? NatGeo doesn't seem like the site for you.

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