The image above may look like part of the advertisement for Mars Explorer Barbie, but it’s not. Scientists were recently able to directly observe and acquire and image of planet GJ 504b. GJ 504b is not only the planet with the lowest mass of any that has been directly imaged in the past, but is also pink.
While scientists have described the planet as a dull shade of magenta, not quite the bright pink one might hope for, the planet is still a very interesting and unusual hue. The planet orbits around star GJ 504 and, because astronomers using Hawaii’s Subaru Telescope were able to directly image it, they have a good idea of what might comprise the pink planet. The planet, while less massive than other observed planets, is still a gas giant, like Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune, and is, in fact, more massive than Jupiter.
GJ 504b is, apparently, not only pink, but glowing slightly, and relatively new, according to NASA Goddard Space Flight Center discovery team member Michael McElwain. He described the planet’s unusual color for NASA, stating that,
If we could travel to this giant planet, we would see a world still glowing from the heat of its formation with a color reminiscent of a dark cherry blossom, a dull magenta. Our near-infrared camera reveals that its color is much more blue than other imaged planets, which may indicate that its atmosphere has fewer clouds.
GJ 504b and it’s fellow planets orbiting around GJ 504 could help astronomers learn more about the formation of gas giants. Aside from resembling Glinda the Good Witch’s favorite form of transportation, the glowing pink planet is, interestingly, 9 times farther away from GJ 504 than Jupiter is from the sun. This number throws off the theory that gas giants form within the debris disk around a new star, as can be seen in the diagram below.
Scientists will have to take into account the differences between our own solar system and GJ 504’s in order to develop new ideas about the formation of gas giants, and direct imaging using infrared cameras is integral to the process. The findings call the core-acceleration theory, that gas giants form in the debris disks of young stars when astroids and comets collide to form the “seed” of a planet. According to NASA, two tools, “the High Contrast Instrument for the Subaru Next Generation Adaptive Optics and the InfraRed Camera and Spectrograph,” are integral to discovering more about the formation of and atmospheres of planets like the pink planet. The science is fascinating, and could provide plenty of new knowledge about how our own solar system formed as we know it, but for now, the color of the planet is just plain fun.
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