Exoplanet HD 106906 b's orbit pinned down by the Hubble Space Telescope

NASA leverages the Hubble Space Telescope for all manner of scientific endeavors. Recently Hubble was used to pin down the orbit of a massive exoplanet called HD 106906 b that is 11 times the mass of Jupiter. The planet resides in a double-star solar system 336 light-years away. Scientists hope that learning about HD 106906 b will allow them to gain insights into the hypothesized "Planet Nine" in our solar system.

This study marks the first time astronomers have measured the motion of a Jupiter-like planet orbiting very far away from its host star and visible debris disk. The disc in this particular solar system is similar to the Kuiper Belt of small, icy bodies beyond Neptune in our solar system. The lead author of the paper, Meiji Nguyen from the University of California, Berkeley, says the system draws a "potentially unique comparison" to our solar system.

HD 106906 b is widely separated from its host stars on an eccentric and highly misaligned orbit, which is precisely what is predicted for Planet Nine. Scientists are very curious about how this type of planet forms and evolved to its current configuration. The system the gas giant resides in is young on a cosmic scale at 15 million years old.

Our solar system, by comparison, is 4.6 billion years old. Scientists say that if Planet Nine does exist in our solar system, it could have formed very early in the evolution of our solar system. HD 106906 b was first discovered in 2013 using the Magellan Telescopes at the Los Campanas Observatory in Chile. When it was discovered, scientists knew nothing about the planet's orbit.

Hubble performed very accurate measurements of the exoplanet's motion over 14 years. Data on that motion was used by the team of researchers from the Hubble archive in the study. HD 106906 b is more than 730 times further away from its host stars than the distance of the Earth from the sun. That's nearly 68 billion miles, and its orbit takes 15,000 years to circle the host stars.