At 35 light-years away, it’s also the 2nd coolest, 2nd widest planet ever found.
Despite discovering more than 4000 exoplanets, most remain obscure.
Their nature — small, faint, and in tight orbits — prevent direct imaging.
The stellar glare simply overwhelms their planet’s reflected light.
However, heat-generating exoplanets are special.
Just like Jupiter, they reflect visible light, but emit their own infrared radiation.
When well-separated from their parent stars, they yield to direct imaging.
The first one ever announced was Fomalhaut b, although its planetary nature is contentious.
Since then, a few dozen exoplanets have been directly imaged, all very massive.
The lightest one, 51 Eridani b, exceeds double Jupiter’s mass.
But the closest one, newly discovered, is just 35 light-years away: COCONUTS-2b.
It was discovered back in 2011 by NASA’s WISE: a wide-field infrared telescope.
Recent work led to its identification as a widely-separated planet, bound to the dwarf star L 34–26.
It’s the second most well-separated exoplanet ever, behind TYC9486 b.
It’s also the second faintest exoplanet ever found, behind WD 0806–661 B.
The COol Companions ON Ultrawide orbiTS (COCONUTS) program is successfully identifying these massive, well-separated exoplanets.
However, rocky exoplanets cannot be directly imaged yet.
A properly equipped next-generation space telescope, like HabEx or LUVOIR, will someday reveal those worlds.
Mostly Mute Monday tells an astronomical story in images, visuals, and no more than 200 words. Talk less; smile more.
Starts With A Bang is written by Ethan Siegel, Ph.D., author of Beyond The Galaxy, and Treknology: The Science of Star Trek from Tricorders to Warp Drive.