It’s hard enough to stay close with your high school friends after heading off to colleges at opposite ends of the country—imagine trying to stay connected when your schools are one trillion kilometers apart. Well, it turns out that’s exactly what one planet has managed to pull of with its star. Together, they make the biggest known solar system in the universe.
Until recently, 2MASS J2126 was believed to be a rogue planet, drifting unmoored through space. Astronomers have realized it has actually been orbiting a star one trillion kilometers (more than 621 billion miles) away. It takes the planet almost 900,000 years to finish one complete orbit around its star, giving it the widest orbit we’ve yet to discover.
For some perspective, the farthest that we here on Earth get from our sun is 150 million kilometers (93 million miles away). The farthest that Neptune gets from the sun is just under 4.5 billion kilometers (2.8 billion miles); Neptune has an orbit that takes 165 years.
Scientists have been aware of both the planet and the star for over eight years, but given the distance between the two, no one realized that they were moving together. The findings came from a team of astronomers from the U.S., the United Kingdom, and Australia, who published their results in the “Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.”
They don’t really know how such a long-distance connection occurs in the first place, let alone how it works.
Maybe the planet and star just both really love each other? Love is the strongest bond in the universe. Either way, this is just another reminder that space is really, really, really, really big.
Where does this rank on your list of favorite space discoveries? Tell us in the comments below.
Image: Neil James Cook/University of Hertfordshire