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Is PTFO 8-8695b A Planet? How To Classify A Planet

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A young planetary candidate in our galaxy is slowly being killed by its own star. This young stellar body only takes 11 hours to go around its sun. The very tight orbit suggested that its outer layers are slowly being stripped away by the star's gravity.

The researchers theorized that the baby planet likely formed farther from its star but migrated to a certain point where the close proximity is slowly causing it to shed its own outer layers. 

In the recent study, researchers from Rice University analyzed the star PTFO 8-8695 and its orbiting baby planet PTFO 8-8695b in the constellation Orion. They found that the baby planet's close proximity to its sun is stripping away its own gaseous atmosphere.

The researchers have yet to firmly measure the baby planet's mass, which suggested that they do not have absolute proof that the stellar body is a planet. However, their observations are pushing toward verifying that PTFO 8-8695b is actually a planet.

What Makes A Planet A Planet?

There are some heavenly bodies that are classified as planets, while some are called brown dwarfs. What exactly makes a new stellar body a planet?

Astronomer Rob Cockcroft used Ceres as an example of the complicated classification process of planets. Ceres is the biggest stellar object found in the asteroid belt.

When it was discovered in 1801, astronomers classified Ceres as a planet, but in the 1850s, it was re-classified into an asteroid. Today, astronomers classify Ceres as a dwarf planet, the same classification they gave to Pluto, which was once called the ninth planet in our solar system.

"Some people suggested that Pluto should never have been called a planet in the first place. And in 2006, it was re-classified as a dwarf planet when the criteria to be called a planet expanded," said Cockcroft.

The astronomer explained that based on today's standards, a heavenly body in the Solar System must orbit the sun. Apart from that, it should have enough mass for its own gravity to render it round. Moreover, the planetary candidate must have successfully cleared the smaller objects in its orbit.

"We compared our evidence against every other scenario we could imagine, and the weight of the evidence suggests this is one of the youngest planets yet observed," said lead author and astronomer Christopher Johns-Krull from Rice University.

What is uncertain at this point is whether the baby planet PTFO 8-8695b will lose its mass or shed too much that it can no longer survive.

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