The universe just keeps getting weirder…
If you’ve been reading the right news feeds, you’ll probably know by now that Fomalhaut b has officially been confirmed as a planet. And it’s an interesting one, too. Orbiting the star Fomalhaut, an A-type star somewhat more massive and hotter than the sun, this planet has a wildly eccentric orbit. As befitting a larger star, Fomalhaut b’s orbit is huge compared to our solar system.
Even at the closest point in its orbit, the orbits of every planet in our own solar system could fit between it and Fomalhaut (as shown in this, now outdated, image). At the furthest point in its orbit, it reaches nearly 10 times the distance between Neptune and the sun, ploughing through a thick disk of dusty material held in Fomalhaut’s gravitational grip.
So what was the controversy over this planet? As it happens, it’s quite an interesting story, and an excellent example of the way good science works.