A few weeks ago I wrote about the interesting discoveries by the Kepler probe and by ground based telescopes of planets outside of our own solar system that seem to be similar to the Earth. They are interesting places to explore, as they could quite possibly support life similar to the diversity found on our own world.

Now a team of astronomers from the University of Montreal have announced a truly extreme exoplanet at the other end of the spectrum. They have just announced the discovery of a giant planet that is 115 light years away in the Pisces constellation and perhaps more amazingly was directly imaged instead of detected through effects on light from its host star. Furthermore, this new planet seems to have one of the largest orbits of any exoplanet yet observed. 

This newly observed exoplanet is dubbed GU Psc b, and is believed to have a mass more than ten times greater than Jupiter. Its orbit is approximately two thousand times larger than the Earth's, and at this distance it takes the planet approximately 80,000 years (measured in Earth years) to complete one orbit. Each season on GU Psc would last longer than the entire recorded history of humanity!

This large orbit, as well as the relative young age of the planet and its host star, are also what allowed astronomers to perform direct imaging of the exoplanet. Most planets are obscured by the brightness of their host star, or they are too dark to be seen. Since GU Psc b is far away from its star, the light from the star can be effectively blocked so that just the planet can be studied.  And because the parent star is only about 100 million years old, its solar system is still very young and has not cooled down as much as our own. That means that GU Psc b is still glowing from its heat of formation.

It is an interesting new discovery, and joins the diamond planet (discussed in an earlier article) as one of the most interesting and extreme exoplanets in the galaxy.