Gallifrey Falls No More: Scientists Discover a Planet that Shouldn’t Exist
by Rebecca Pahle | 2:00 pm, December 9th, 2013
Yes, there is a petition to name it Gallifrey.
This can be reason two hundred thousand or so for why space is awesome: Astronomers have discovered a planet the existence of which flies in the face of all theories about how planets are formed. Specifically, what’s so weird about HD 106906 b is that it’s huge (11 times the size of Jupiter), but it’s also really, really far from its host sun. About 20 times farther out than Neptune is from our sun, to be more precise. It’s generally believed that planets are formed out of debris that passes close to stars, but that process is way too slow to have been the cause of HD 106906 b’s creation. Basically, up until its discovery astronomers didn’t think a planet like it could exist.
“This system is especially fascinating because no model of either planet or star formation fully explains what we see,” says Vanessa Bailey, the fifth-year University of Arizona graduate student who led the team that discovered the planet.
Still, there is a logical explanation, even if we don’t know it yet. Bailey says the planet might have formed in a similar way to how binary stars do. That doesn’t fully explain it, since the planet is exponentially denser than binary stars tend to be. But the planet’s in an area of space that’s been observed before, meaning a lot of data has already been collected that could help astronomers figure out how HD 106906 b came to be. Says co-investigator Tiffany Meshkat: “Every new directly detected planet pushes our understanding of how and where planets can form.”
Even if the explanation isn’t “All 13 Doctors sealed it into a time bubble to keep the Daleks and the Time Lords from raining destruction on the universe,”—I’m at least 95% sure it’s not that—this is still amazingly cool. We think we know something that seems like it should be fairly basic, like how planets form, but then HD 106906 b comes along all “Not this time. Try again.” Space is vast and complicated, and there’s so much we don’t know.