This ‘Whiplash’ Planet Is Unlike Anything Astronomers Have Ever Seen

The astronomers didn't observe HR 5183 b directly but inferred its size and orbit by observing tiny "wobbles" in light from its host star

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Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images

Astronomers have discovered a giant planet whose extreme orbit makes it unlike anything they’ve ever seen, NBC News reports.

Dubbed HR 5183 b, the exoplanet is at least three times as massive as Jupiter, and it takes a long, looping path around a star that lies about 100 light-years away in the constellation Virgo. If the exoplanet were in our own solar system — in which Earth and the other planets move around the sun in nearly circular orbits — its extremely elliptical orbit would take it from beyond Neptune to within the orbit of Jupiter.

The discovery shows that "our universe is full of lots of weird solar systems totally unlike our own," Sarah Blunt, a graduate student at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, and one of the scientists behind the discovery, said in an email. "It seems like every time we think we've found the weirdest solar system, something else totally strange is discovered."

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