In a rare direct photo of a world beyond Earth, astronomers have spotted a planet 13 times more massive than Jupiter, the largest planet in our own solar system.
The planet orbits a star called Kappa Andromedae that is 2.5 times the mass of the sun and is located 170 light-years away from Earth. As a gas giant larger than Jupiter, it's classified as a "super-Jupiter."
The object is an interesting test case for theories of planet formation, scientists say. Based on observations of this system, the super Jupiter appears to have formed in the same way ordinary, lower-mass exoplanets do, by coalescing from a "protoplanetary disk" of material orbiting a nascent star.
That's because its orbit, somewhat wider than the path Neptune takes around our sun, is at a comparable distance to planetary orbits in the solar system. Additionally, its star, kappa Andromedae, is relatively young, at about 30 million years old (for comparison, the sun is roughly 5 billion years old). These clues point toward a formation story typical of smaller planets.
Previously, some scientists had doubted that such large stars could give birth to planets in protoplanetary disks. The new finding indicates that this star probably did just that.