The exoplanet COCONUTS-2b and its star: an artist's view. Credit: B. Bays / SOEST / University of Hawai

10 Things You Need to Know About the Closest Directly Imaged Alien World

COCONUTS-2b is the closest exoplanet that could be observed directly and also the farthest such object from its own star.

Scientists from the Institute of Astronomy at the University of Hawaii in the United States have discovered an exoplanet at a distance of only 35 light-years – this is the closest exoplanet to Earth ever found and described. It was named COCONUTS-2b.

Distant exoplanets are almost always too small and dim to see directly. Almost all of them are detected by indirect signs – for example, by weak vibrations of a star caused by the attraction of a planet rotating around it or by the darkening of a stellar disk when a planet passes against its background.

Only in some rare cases, an exoplanet can be seen directly. As noted at the University of Hawaii, COCONUTS-2b is so far the second cold exoplanet found to be imaged.

How did astronomers discover, observe, and capture COCONUTS-2b?

1. Two circumstances helped to distinguish the exoplanet COCONUTS-2b: first, a decent distance from the parent star, which is more than 6000 times the radius of the Earth’s orbit; secondly, the proximity of the entire system to us.

2. COCONUTS-2 is only 35 light-years from the Sun, making COCONUTS-2b the closest exoplanet ever recorded directly.

3. COCONUTS-2 itself is a young, active, and relatively cool star, its age does not even reach a billion years, and its dimensions are about three times smaller than the sun.

4. The planet COCONUTS-2b is located at such a great distance from it that when it was first noticed, astronomers did not believe that it was bound to the star.

5. Only new work by Hawaiian scientists has shown that the planet is gravitationally bound to the star. Astronomers estimate that COCONUTS-2b completes a full revolution in its huge orbit in 1.1 million years – a record among all known exoplanets.

A direct shot of the star COCONUTS-2 and exoplanet COCONUTS-2b. Credit: Zhang et al., 2021
A direct shot of the star COCONUTS-2 and exoplanet COCONUTS-2b. Credit: Zhang et al., 2021

6. COCONUTS-2b is an icy gas giant about six times as massive as Jupiter. Being at a great distance from the star, it receives very little radiation and is heated mainly by the heat of its own interior.

7. The temperature on COCONUTS-2b is 160 ° C, making it one of the coldest exoplanets that have been observed directly.

8. It should be added that the name COCONUTS-2 is not associated with the English word “coconuts”, it is an abbreviation for the name of the survey COol Companions ON Ultrawide orbiTS (“Cold partners in ultra-wide orbits”), on the basis of which the discovery was made.

9. In general, astronomers have already discovered thousands of exoplanets, but only a few have been able to get images. The fact is that exoplanets are very difficult to see with telescopes. Almost all of them are detected by indirect signs: oscillations of a star near the planet, an eclipse of the stellar disk when the planet passes in front of it, and so on.

10. As it turned out, COCONUTS-2b was first noticed back in 2011 thanks to the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer satellite, but then scientists decided that it was a free-floating object that did not revolve around the star.

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O’Neill, M. (2021, July 30). Massive coconuts exoplanet discovery: Giant planet just 35 light years from earth. SciTechDaily.
Starr, M. (n.d.). This newly discovered world is the closest directly imaged exoplanet ever. ScienceAlert.
University of Hawaii. (2021, July 27). Massive coconuts exoplanet discovery led by uh grad student.
Zhang, Z., Liu, M. C., Claytor, Z. R., Best, W. M. J., Dupuy, T. J., & Siverd, R. J. (n.d.). The Second Discovery from the COCONUTS Program: A Cold Wide-orbit Exoplanet around a Young Field M Dwarf at 10.9 pc. The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Written by Vladislav Tchakarov

Hello, my name is Vladislav and I am glad to have you here on Curiosmos. As a history student, I have a strong passion for history and science, and the opportunity to research and write in this field on a daily basis is a dream come true.

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