Astronomers Discover a Pink Planet Around a Sun-like Star

You’re looking at an artist’s conception of GJ 504b, the lowest-mass planet ever detected around a star using direct imaging techniques. Located 57 light-years away, it’s about four times the mass of Jupiter. And it’s pink. Really, really pink.

The newly discovered planet orbits around star GJ 504, a sun that’s very similar to our own, and one that can be seen by the naked eye in the constellation Virgo.

The pink planet, or a color that NASA scientist Michael McElwain describes as being "reminiscent of a dark cherry blossom, a dull magenta,” cooks at a temperature of about 460 degrees Fahrenheit (237 Celsius) and orbits at a distance of 43.5 AU from its star (1 AU = average distance of Earth to the Sun).

This means that GJ 504b is located super-deep in its outer solar system. For perspective, Jupiter orbits at 5 AU, Saturn at 9 AU, and Neptune at about 30 AU.

Astronomers Discover a Pink Planet Around a Sun-like Star

The planet was imaged by using infrared data pulled from the Subaru Telescope in Hawaii.

The dramatic coloring of the gas giant is indicative of its youth; it’s just a baby. NASA scientists estimate the age of the solar system at a mere 160 million years. The planet is literally glowing from the heat of its recent formation.

And given the planet’s extreme distance from its sun, it’s changing our conception of how giant planets form. The going theory is the core-accretion model where Jupiter-like planets form in the gas-rich debris disk that surrounds a young star. This model is all fine-and-well for planets closer than 30 AU, but it proves problematic for worlds located farther from their stars.

"This is among the hardest planets to explain in a traditional planet-formation framework," said Markus Janson through a release. He’s a Hubble postdoctoral fellow at Princeton University in New Jersey. "Its discovery implies that we need to seriously consider alternative formation theories, or perhaps to reassess some of the basic assumptions in the core-accretion theory."

These results are set to appear in an upcoming edition of The Astrophysical Journal.

[Source and images: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/NOAJ]