NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope may have discovered the farthest forming planet from its star in the constellation Hydra. The exoplanet is forming 7.5 billion miles from its star, nearly double the distance from our Sun to Pluto if it was travelling within our solar system.

Potential Planet Forming
NASA's Hubble may have discovered a potential planet forming 7.5 billion years from its star. NASA, ESA, J. Debes (STScI), H. Jang-Condell (University of Wyoming), A. Weinberger (Carnegie Institution of Washington), A. Roberge (Goddard Space Flight Center), G. Schneider (University of Arizona/Steward Observatory), and A. Feild (STScI/AURA)

NASA announced the discovery of a possible newly forming planet on Thursday. The exoplanet is orbiting around the red dwarf star TW Hydrae within the constellation Hydra, located 176 light-years from Earth. The new planet is approximately six to 28 times the mass of Earth, according to the news release. Astronomers were able to discover the new planet by observing a gap within a protoplanetary disk of dust and gas, approximately 41 billion miles wide, that is surrounding TW Hydrae. Of the 900 discovered exoplanets, or planets outside our solar system, this potential planet is the farthest from its star.

Astronomers speculated the gap, approximately 1.9 billion miles wide, was being formed by this new planet as it consumed nearby material. In addition to its incredible distance, what’s unique about the new planet is the relatively quick time period of its formation.

NASA notes that it took approximately 10 million years for Jupiter to form, which is 500 million miles from our Sun. Based on its calculations, it would have taken 2 billion years, or 200 times needed for Jupiter to form, for the new planet to have formed. That’s a considerable problem considering the star it is orbiting, TW Hydrae, is even younger than Jupiter, NASA reports. TW Hydrae is approximately 8 million years old and 55 times less massive than our Sun, making it an unlikely parent for the planet.

Research leader John Debes, from the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Md., said, “If we can actually confirm that there's a planet there, we can connect its characteristics to measurements of the gap properties.” One solution to this problem could be the theory that some part of the disk became unstable and accelerated the planet-forming process.

Another interesting dilemma caused by the Hubble observations is the lack of large dust particles necessary to form a planet. Planets need larger and larger clusters of dust to form, from grains to rocks, and the disk does not even have dust the size of a grain of sand that far out from TW Hydrae, the release notes. Debes said, “Typically, you need pebbles before you can have a planet. So, if there is a planet and there is no dust larger than a grain of sand farther out, that would be a huge challenge to traditional planet formation models.” The potential planet could pave the way for a better understanding on how planets form, and the research was published in the Astrophysical Journal.