A previously discovered exoplanet called HD 106906b may have been exiled to the edge of its birthplace in a process similar to what happened to our own solar system when it was younger, a new study revealed.
Scientists examined images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope and the Gemini Planet Imager (GPI), and found that the host star of the exoplanet has a lopsided comet belt that indicates a very disturbed solar system. The interactions of the planets which stirred the comets closer to the star might have kicked out the exoplanet as well, they said.
Paul Kalas of the University of California, Berkeley explained that the exoplanet could have captured material from the comet belt, and that it may be surrounded by a huge dust ring or dust shroud.
"We conducted three tests and found tentative evidence for a dust cloud, but the jury is still out," said Kalas.
Abhi Rajan, one of the researchers in the study who analyzed the images, said that the planetary measurements they got suggested that the exoplanet may be dustier than comparison objects. The team is making follow-up observations to verify if the exoplanet is really surrounded by a disk.
Scientists said that such exoplanets are interesting because our own solar system in its earlier time may have had planets that were also kicked out and are no longer part of the current roster of eight planets.
Kalas said that when our solar system was about 13 million years old, the Kuiper belt lost a huge fraction of its mass as it evolved, but scientists do not know how it was decimated for sure. One of the ways to know is to study the violent episodes of gravitational disturbances surrounding other young stars, which kick out many celestial objects and planets, he said.
Kalas and his colleagues said the gravitational disturbance may have been caused by a passing star that roiled the inner planets or a second massive planet in the system. They searched for another large planet near the star that may have interacted with HD 106906b, but they did not find anything outside the Uranus-sized orbit.
The exoplanet HD 106906b is 11 times the size of Jupiter, scientists said, and is found 16 times farther than the distance of Pluto from our sun to its own host star.
Kalas is hopeful that studying the exoplanet may help in understanding how our solar system took shape and formed its current place.
The study's findings were featured in the Astrophysical Journal.