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Science & Technology

A New Planet Was Discovered – And Old Theories Must Change – Lesson

Sometimes new discoveries show us that we didn’t understand the science as well as we thought.

Astronomers keep discovering new planets they don’t understand. Recently, they found a huge planet around a small star named GJ 3512. According to their theories, it shouldn’t exist. It is too large, and it’s made of gas.

The Old View

A few years ago, astronomers thought that they knew how planets form. The theory was that they start with a giant cloud of gas and dust in space that is pulled together by gravity. As the cloud is compressed, the temperature increases. Finally, it is hot and compressed enough to ignite a nuclear reaction, and a star is born.

There is still dust and gas remaining around the newborn star. These then clump together to become planets. The heaviest elements, like iron, band together closest to the new sun and become solid planets like our Earth, or our neighbors Mercury, Venus, and Mars. The gases stay further out and become fluffy giant gas balls like Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, or Neptune.

A New Frontier

Scientists believed this theory explained where planets come from, but studying new planets in other solar systems has brought doubt to the theory.

The recently discovered gas-ball planet orbits a star that is 30 lightyears from Earth. To understand how far that is, you can imagine that the distance from Earth to the sun is one yard. If that were true, traveling to GJ 3512 would be like flying from Los Angeles to New York.

While it is exciting to find something unexpected, it is also a sign that our understanding of the universe is not as complete as we imagined.

Earth-like Exoplanets

The planets that revolve around other stars are called exoplanets. The first one was discovered in 1992.

It is even more exciting that many of the exoplanets are similar to Earth in size, and some of them orbit stars that resemble our own sun. They may be habitable for humans. In 2017, researchers at the University of Geneva discovered an Earth-like exoplanet around the red dwarf star Ross 128. It is only 11 lightyears away!

This is still a significant distance, but if you are young today, you may live to see the day when a human-made spacecraft visits this planet. If we are lucky, it may be a place where future generations of explorers can live and settle.