NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center recently discovered the existence of a new planet about 57 light years away from Earth. Known as GJ 504b, the planet is about the size of Jupiter—although several times its mass—and is the smallest planet ever to be directly imaged by a telescope. Not to mention it also happens to be colored a deep magenta, a sign of its relative planetary youth.
Yet its unique hue is not the primary reason astronomers are so puzzled by this planet. GJ 504b’s distance from its star—which is about 44 times the distance between Earth and the Sun—and its massive size are inconsistent with current planetary formation theories.
Core accretion theory, which models the formation of Jupiter-like planets such as GJ 504b, states that the gravitational force created by mass collisions of debris in space attracts gas-rich particles, eventually leading to a large planetary formation.
However, GJ 504b is well outside of the threshold in which Jupiter-like planets typically form, in a region where the density of debris is not thought to be significant enough to create a planet. Many astronomers are now worried that the basic assumptions of core accretion theory may require reexamination.
Whether or not the discovery of GJ 504b leads to new and revolutionary astronomical theories is a question for the astrophysicists. For the rest of us, this pretty pink planet is just another reminder of the infinite awesomeness of the universe.