Massive Planet Spotted 146 Light Years From Earth

( – “Space the final frontier…” is something almost everybody is familiar with from the opening credits of Gene Roddenberry’s iconic television series Star Trek, a show that sparked the imagination of a generation to look beyond Earth’s atmosphere. That’s why a group of scientists was so excited to find an object moving along with a star that’s 146 light-years away. That’s roughly 888 trillion miles — the number of times one would have to sing “99 Bottles of Beer/Soda/Pop” to keep the kids occupied on that road trip does not even bear contemplation.

But What Is It?

Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 is a project funded by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) that allows more than 71,000 volunteer citizen scientists access to a database of space pictures. Poring over images of a star known as BD+60 1417 in the Ursa Major constellation, they were able to identify what’s called a co-moving system.

Astronomers use a factor of Jupiter’s mass to determine whether an object is a planet/exoplanet, a brown dwarf (~13× to 80× the planet’s mass), or a star capable of nuclear fusion (>80× that number). The discovery, in this case, ranges somewhere from 10× to 20×, so they can’t be sure how to define it — think of it as Schrödinger’s cosmic-dust ball.

Nearer and Farther

That was not the only interesting spaceborne news during 2021, and one accomplishment occurred much closer, being only about eight light-minutes away at our very own life-sustaining star. NASA launched the Parker Solar Probe in 2018, and this year, it became the first man-made object to officially touch the sun.

In April, it passed through the sun’s atmosphere (aka the corona), moving along at a sedate 223,000 mph — and Kyle Busch thinks he knows about moving fast, ha! This feat was only recently announced because of the time needed to send its readings back home and for the scientists to analyze the data.

Bringing Jupiter back into focus, NASA sent Lucy out into space. No, nothing to do with the zany redhead or the black-haired girl, the nemesis of wannabe football kicker Charlie Brown. The Lucy is a probe launched on a 12-year mission to study the asteroids that share the same orbital path as the planet.

Turning their eyes farther outward, researchers believe they may have found the first extragalactic planet in the Whirlpool Galaxy some 28 million light-years distant. And so, scientists continue to examine that immense frontier in a quest to understand more about our universe.

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