Because space is just amazing, astronomers in Hawaii announced today that they've found a planet 170 light-years away from Earth that is more than thirteen times larger than the largest planet in our solar system (that's Jupiter, for those of you just tuning in). They've also managed to take a photo of its surface, which is a fairly rare occurrence, and the rest of us get to benefit from living in the really tremendous kind of era where anyone can just look at photographs taken in outer space over lunch at our desks.
Based on observations of this system, the super Jupiter appears to have formed in the same way ordinary, lower-mass exoplanets do, by coalescing from a "protoplanetary disk" of material orbiting a nascent star.
That's because its orbit, somewhat wider than the path Neptune takes around our sun, is at a comparable distance to planetary orbits in the solar system. Additionally, its star, kappa Andromedae, is relatively young, at about 30 million years old (for comparison, the sun is roughly 5 billion years old). These clues point toward a formation story typical of smaller planets.
Previously, some scientists had doubted that such large stars could give birth to planets in protoplanetary disks. The new finding indicates that this star probably did just that.
As if unlocking the secrets behind the genesis of lumbering beast-planets weren't enough for science today, NASA has just found a new galaxy further from us than any other in the known universe. They used the gravity of nearby galaxies as a zooming tool to make the discovery, which breaks all previous records.
"That's great - for space," you might say. "But what does that have to do with me?" How about this: everyone's going to get a second chance to make things right with this year's Leonid meteor shower. The first peak - 600-year-old exhalations from the tail of comet Tempel-Tuttle - ended on Saturday, and time went heedlessly on whether you managed to catch it or not, but now scientists predict there will be a second sighting tomorrow between midnight and 3:00am EST.
"For best meteor viewing, dress warmly and go to a location away from city lights," NASA astronomer and space poet Bill Cooke wrote on the official website. "You want clear, dark skies. Lie flat on your back and look straight up, allowing your eyes 30 to 45 minutes to adjust to the dark. No special viewing equipment needed - just your eyes."