Scientists who study space, called astronomers, found a new planet far away. Planets outside our solar system are called exoplanets, and this exoplanet makes astronomers doubt what they used to believe about how planets are formed. If everything we thought we knew about planets were correct, this planet shouldn’t exist. It’s too big.
The Old View
We thought that the solar system began when a giant cloud of gas and dust in space was pulled together by gravity. The heaviest part of the cloud became the sun and the next heaviest parts became the planets closest to the sun, Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars. Farther away, and with lighter elements, planets formed as gas giants, like Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. This idea seemed to work fine until we started discovering exoplanets.
A New Frontier
Astronomers have noticed objects they thought might be exoplanets for a very long time, but the first one they were sure about was found in 1992. Since then, a lot of exoplanets have been found. Scientists realized that they didn’t know as much about how planets formed as they thought. The most recent planet found circles a star called GJ 3512, 30 lightyears away. One lightyear is how far light travels in a year. To understand just how far away GJ 3512 is, imagine that Earth is only a few feet away from the sun. If that were true, going to GJ 3512 would be like flying across the whole United States.
This planet is too big to have formed in the way astronomers thought all planets formed. But sometimes new discoveries show us that we didn’t understand the science as well as we thought. Finding exoplanets has shown us that we still have a lot to learn.