Zombie Planet Fomalhaut b is Back From the Dead

Posted on October 31, 2012

Zombie Planet Fomalhaut B

Exoplanet Fomalhaut b may be close to returning to the list of known exoplanets. In November 2008, Hubble astronomers announced Fomalhaut b as the first one ever directly imaged in visible light around another star. However, follow-up studies questioned the data and indicated the planet was nothing more than a transient dust cloud. An artist's impression of Fomalhaut b is pictured above.

Now, NASA says new analysis suggests that Fomalhaut b is a real planet and not a dust cloud. This is why it has been dubbed the Zombie planet by NASA, because it may be coming "back from the dead." Researchers say Fomalhaut b may be a "rare and possibly unique object that is completely shrouded by dust."

Thayne Currie, an astronomer formerly at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and now at the University of Toronto, used Hubble data to determine that Fomalhaut b is moving with a speed and direction consistent with the original idea that the planet's gravity is modifying the ring.

Thayne Currie said in a release, "Although our results seriously challenge the original discovery paper, they do so in a way that actually makes the object's interpretation much cleaner and leaves intact the core conclusion, that Fomalhaut b is indeed a massive planet."

Take a look:

A paper describing the findings has been accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal Letters. Fomalhaut was also recently targeted with Hubble in May by another research team and their observations are expected to be published soon.

Image: ESA; Hubble, M. Kornmesser; and ESO, L. Calcada and L. L. Christensen

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