PROFESSIONAL and amateur astronomers announced today the discovery of a "bizarre" planet outside the solar system that is more than 13 times the mass of Jupiter.
The planet known as XO-3b was "an oddity" compared to the more than 200 extrasolar planets found so far, said Peter McCullough, an astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland.
"It's the largest and most massive planet yet found in such a close orbit, and given the proximity of the orbit to the star, we were surprised to find that the orbit is not circular but significantly elliptical,'' Mr McCullough said.
He and other researchers presented their findings today at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Honolulu in the state of Hawaii.
"This planet is really quite bizarre,'' said Christopher Johns-Krull, an astronomer from Rice University.
The size of XO-3b falls within the boundary between planets and "brown dwarfs" - which are massive objects that are smaller than stars.
"There's still a lively debate among astronomers about how to classify brown dwarfs,'' said Johns-Krull.
"Some people believe anything capable of fusing deuterium, which in theory happens around 13 Jupiter masses, is a brown dwarf. Others say it's not the mass that matters, but whether the body forms on its own or as part of a planetary system,'' he said.
The planet was discovered by the XO Project, which couples amateur astronomers with professional astronomers, using a telescope in Hawaii on the Haleakala summit.
Amateur astronomers observe stars deemed possible planets, culling the list over time. Professional astronomers then follow up the observations with two larger telescopes in Texas to confirm the presence of a transiting planet.
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