‘Planetary Heists’ Steal Gas Giants From Young Systems

Sep 10, 2022 | Daily Space, Exoplanets

‘Planetary Heists’ Steal Gas Giants From Young Systems
IMAGE: The image shows a gas giant planet (like Jupiter) on a distant orbit around a blue, massive star. The planet is likely to have been captured or stolen from another star. CREDIT: The University of Sheffield

This last planetary story has it all – a silly headline, a tortured backronym, and some literal thievery. First, the headline refers to this thievery as a ‘planetary heist’, and I’m still picturing a team of scientists a la Ocean’s Eleven planning to move a planet to another solar system. In reality, the thefts occur when star systems are younger and close together in stellar nurseries. More massive stars tend to capture the planets of smaller stars.

These captured planets are called ‘BEASTies’ by the research team, which is where the backronym comes in. The study in question is called the B-star Exoplanet Abundance STudy… or BEAST. Hence the ‘BEASTies’ name. Friendly reminder: astronomers are terrible at naming things.

The BEASTies are Jupiter-like planets that are orbiting their massive stepparent stars at huge distances… on the order of hundreds of times the distance between the Sun and Earth. Their formation was a mystery because the massive stars involved tend to have far too much ultraviolet radiation to allow planets to grow that big. Co-author Emma Daffern-Powell notes: We used computer simulations to show that the theft or capture of these BEASTies occurs on average once in the first 10 million years of the evolution of a star-forming region.

Yet one more way that planetary systems can evolve over time.

This research was published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Societywith lead author Richard Parker.

More Information

The University of Sheffield press release

Making BEASTies: dynamical formation of planetary systems around massive stars,” Richard J Parker and Emma C Daffern-Powell, 2022 September 7, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

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