This mysterious object found at the heart of our galaxy is so massive that scientists are unsure whether it’s actually a planet or a brown dwarf.
Scientists have spotted a gigantic “planet” hidden in the center of the Milky Way’s galactic bulge, announced the Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute in a paper, submitted by researcher Yoon-Hyun Ryu to the Cornell University Library.
The object, dubbed “OGLE-2016-BLG-1190Lb,” is circling a star about 22,000 light years away from Earth, and is 13 times larger than Jupiter—our solar system’s largest planet.
“We report the discovery of OGLE-2016-BLG-1190Lb, which is likely to be the first Spitzer microlensing planet in the galactic bulge/bar, an assignation that can be confirmed by two epochs of high-resolution imaging of the combined source-lens baseline object,” the paper reads.
OGLE-2016-BLG-1190Lb was uncovered in June 2016 in a microlensing event hosted by the Optical Gravitational Lensing Experiment (OGLE) collaboration, a Polish astronomical project that searches for dark matter and extrasolar planets in the universe.
A large international team of researchers found the object while analyzing data obtained by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, an infrared space telescope launched in 2003.
And by utilizing microlensing, a method capable of discovering planets at truly great distances from the Earth, scientists were able to spot the mysterious object, which orbits its parent star roughly every three years.
“Microlensing” technique measures distortion in lights by using background stars as flashlights.
However, due to its massive size, scientists aren’t able to determine whether it’s really a planet, or a brown dwarf, also known as a failed star. Brown dwarfs are substellar objects that range from 13 to 90 times the mass of Jupiter, but, they lack sufficient mass to “ignite” as stars do.
“The planet’s mass places it right at the deuterium burning limit, i.e., the conventional boundary between ‘planets’ and ‘brown dwarfs,’” the paper reads.
OGLE-2016-BLG-1190Lb was found right at the edge of the brown-dwarf desert.
“Since the existence of the brown dwarf desert is the signature of different formation mechanisms for stars and planets, the extremely close proximity of OGLE-2016-BLG-1190Lb to this desert raises the question of whether it is truly a ‘planet’ (by formation mechanism) and therefore reacts back upon its role tracing the galactic distribution of planets,” the author wrote in the paper, as reported by phys.org.
It’ll be interesting to see what this alien “planet” turns out to be. Let’s hope we receive an update in the near future. It’s a big universe out there!