Scientists have snapped an image of a newly discovered alien world that is just 300 light-years from Earth.
The planet, dubbed HD 95086 b, is huge--four to five times the size of Jupiter -- and it makes a wide circle around its young sun, orbiting the star at twice the distance between our sun and Neptune.
Despite the wide orbit, scientists estimate that the planet is burning hot with surface temperatures around 700 degrees Celsius (almost 1,300 degrees Fahrenheit). Still, it is possible that water vapor could exist in its atmosphere, as well as methane gas, said Gaël Chauvin, one of the scientists who helped discover the planet, in a statement.
Its host star is just 10 million to 17 million years old, and astronomers say it is a bit more massive than our sun. It is surrounded by a disc made up of gas and dust, which is likely where HD 95086 b first formed. The disc may be harboring other, hidden planets as well, scientists say.
Whether the planet started as a collection of rocks that gradually added gas from its environment, or whether it started as a clump of gas that arose from pockets of unstable gravity in the disc is still unclear, said astronomer Anne-Marie Lagrange, who was also involved in the discovery, in a statement.
The planet was discovered using the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope in Chile. It appears as a blue fuzzy blob in the image above.
Although astronomers have found more than 1,000 planets outside our solar system, nearly all of these planets have been found using indirect detection.
All the planets found by NASA's Kepler mission, for example, were discovered when Kepler's instruments logged the temporary dimming of stars that likely indicated a planet had passed in front of them.
Scientists at the European Southern Observatory (ESO) said that just 12 exoplanets had been directly imaged, and that planet HD 95086 b is the least massive of those 12 planets.
"Direct imaging planets is an extremely challenging technique that requires the most advanced instruments, whether ground-based or space," said Julien Rameau, the lead author on the paper, in a statement. "Only a few planets have been directly observed so far, making every single discovery an important milestone on the road to understanding giant planets and how they form."
The scientists presented their findings at a symposium sponsored by the International Astronomical Union in British Columbia this week. The research will also be published in an upcoming issue of Astrophysical Journal Letters.