If ever you feel too big for your britches, or just want to be dwarfed by the vastness of the universe, consider this — scientists have just discovered the largest solar system to date, and it’s so big that one of its alien planets takes 900,000 years or so to complete one orbit around its sun. Our own Pluto (which has been downgraded to a dwarf planet), takes a mere 248 years. The exoplanet in question is a stunning 7,000 astronomical units (AUs) away from its central star (where one AU is the distance from Earth to the sun, or about 1 trillion kilometers).
These distances put those of our own solar system to shame — Pluto, which seems pretty far away, is actually a mere 40 AU from the sun. And the exoplanet itself, dubbed 2MASS J2126, is enormous, with a mass that is somewhere between 12 and 15 times that of Jupiter. Scientists further say the entire makeup of this solar system and planet is different from ours.
“We were very surprised to find such a low-mass object so far from its parent star,” said Dr Simon Murphy from the Australian National University (ANU). “There is no way it formed in the same way as our solar system did, from a large disc of dust and gas.”
For quite some time, scientists mistakenly thought 2MASS J2126 was a rogue planet, floating off on its own in the far reaches of the universe. And understandably so — the BBC notes that this newly discovered system is almost “three times the size of the previous widest star-planet pair.”
“This is the widest planet system found so far and both the members of it have been known for eight years, but nobody had made the link between the objects before,” said lead author Dr. Niall Deacon of the University of Hertfordshire in a statement about the findings. “The planet is not quite as lonely as we first thought, but it’s certainly in a very long distance relationship.”