Washington, DC — A team made up almost entirely of current and former Carnegie scientists has discovered a highly unusual planetary system comprised of a Sun-like star, a dwarf star, and an enormous planet sandwiched in between.
The planet, first discovered in 2011 orbiting a star called HD 7449, is about eight times the mass of Jupiter and has one of the most eccentric orbits ever found. An eccentric orbit is one that deviates from being perfectly circular. The further from a circle it is, the more eccentric it is. A large eccentricity can also indicate that a planet is being affected by other objects nearby. For the planet around HD 7449, the large eccentricity was a clue that something else—something bigger than the known planet—also resided in the system.
“The question was: is it a planet or a dwarf star?” said lead author Timothy Rodigas. To answer the question, Rodigas and his team used the Magellan adaptive optics (MagAO) instrument suite to directly image the mysterious object. MagAO, commissioned in 2013, enables astronomers to take extremely high-resolution images, giving them a sharper look at the night sky than ever before.
“At the telescope, we saw the object within seconds, and that told us it had to be a dwarf star,” Rodigas added.
Just another boring star, right? No, this one is tiny, only 20 percent of the mass of the Sun, and its orbit places it close to the primary star, HD 7449A, just 18 astronomical units (AU) away. (1 AU is…