Beta Pictoris is an incredible laboratory for planetary scientists intrigued by the formation of planets. It is a young star at only 23 million years old (compared to the 5 billion years of our Sun), has a disk of debris around it, a belt of planetesimals, and evaporating exocomets. Not only that but two massive planets orbit the star.
The discovery of the second planet, Beta Pictoris c, was recently announced in the journal Nature Astronomy. The planet was found thanks to 10 years' worth of observations conducted using the HARPS instrument on the Very Large Telescope.
"We talking [sic] about a giant planet about 3,000 times more massive than Earth, situated 2.7 times further from its star than the Earth is from the Sun," lead author Anne-Marie Lagrange, an astronomer at France's National Centre for Scientific Research, told AFP.
The exoplanet is a super-Jupiter, weighing about nine times the mass of the gas giant in our solar system. The planet takes about 1,200 days to orbit Beta Pictoris, much shorter than its sibling. Beta Pictoris b is also a super-Jupiter (its mass is between nine and 13 times that of Jupiter's) but further out at roughly nine times the distance between the Earth and the Sun. In fact, Beta Pictoris b is the first exoplanet whose rotation rate has been measured, spinning on its axis in just 8.1 hours.
Such characteristics are currently unknown for the second planet as more data is required to estimate its properties. The researchers also need to determine whether or not the current modeling of Beta Pictoris b’s properties and whole system dynamics need to be reinvestigated. The presence of such a massive planet is certain to have quite the influence.
Some initial dynamical investigation reported in the study suggests the planetary system is stable. However, Beta Pictoris c might still influence the other planet’s eccentricity, making its orbit more or less circular over time.
Beta Pictoris is an A-type star located 63 light-years from Earth. It is the second-brightest star in the constellation of the Pictor (the Painter’s Easel) and is visible to the naked eye in the Southern Hemisphere.