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Unusual new planet casts doubt on how planets form

A distant, baby planet is challenging the reigning theory about how planets are made.

This 2011 handout photo provided by the European Southern Observatory, shows the Milky Way above the La Silla Observatory in Chile.

Zdenek Bardon/ProjectSoft, European Southern Observatory/AP

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Scientists are at 900 and counting.

Astronomers added one more planet to a roster of about 900 known planets outside our solar system, in a surprising find that could challenge the reigning theory about how planets are made.

The newly discovered planet is orbiting TW Hydrae, a small, young, dwarf star some 176 light-years afield from Earth, at a distance of about 7.5 billion miles from the the star – roughly twice as far as Pluto's orbit around our sun.

TW Hydrae’s youth – it's only 8 million years old – makes it an unlikely candidate to host a planet, scientists say. In that short space of time, a planet should not have had time to form – especially around such a small star, with a mass about half that of our sun and not enough material twirling around it for a new planet to sap up and affix to itself. 

"It's so intriguing to see a system like this," said John Debes, of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, and the head of the research team that identified the gap, in a statement. "This is the lowest-mass star for which we've observed a gap so far out."


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