2M1207b - Discovery, Identification and Properties

Discovery, Identification and Properties

2M1207b is around 100 times fainter in the sky than its companion. It was first spotted as a "faint reddish speck of light" in 2004 by the VLT. Upon initial observation there was some question as to whether the objects might be merely an optical double, but subsequent observation by the Hubble Space Telescope and the VLT has shown that the objects move together and are therefore presumably a binary system.

An initial photometric estimate for the distance to 2M1207b was 70 parsecs. In December 2005, American astronomer Eric Mamajek reported a more accurate distance (53 ± 6 parsecs) to 2M1207b using the moving cluster method. Recent trigonometric parallax results have confirmed this moving cluster distance, leading to a distance estimate of 52.75+1.04
−1.00 parsecs or 172 ± 3 light years.

Estimates for the mass, size, and temperature of 2M1207b are still uncertain. Although spectroscopic evidence is consistent with a mass of 8 ± 2 Jupiter masses and a surface temperature of 1600 ± 100 kelvin, theoretical models for such an object predict a luminosity 10 times greater than observed. Because of this, lower estimates for the mass and temperature have been proposed. Alternatively, 2M1207b might be dimmed by a surrounding disk of dust and gas. As an unlikely possibility, Mamajek and Michael Meyer have suggested that the planet is actually much smaller, but is radiating away heat generated by a recent collision.

Although the mass of 2M1207b is less than that required for deuterium fusion to occur, some 13 times the mass of Jupiter, and the image of 2M1207b has been widely hailed as the first direct image of an extrasolar planet, it may be questioned whether 2M1207b is actually a planet. Some definitions of the term planet require a planet to have formed in the same way as the planets in our Solar System did, by secondary accretion in a protoplanetary disk. With such a definition, if 2M1207b formed by direct gravitational collapse of a gaseous nebula, it would be classed as a sub-brown dwarf rather than a planet. A similar debate exists regarding the identity of GQ Lupi b, also first imaged in 2004. On the other hand, the discovery of marginal cases like Cha 110913-773444—a free-floating, planetary-mass object—raises the question of whether distinction by formation is a reliable dividing line between stars/brown dwarfs and planets. As of 2006, the International Astronomical Union Working Group on Extrasolar Planets described 2M1207b as a "possible planetary-mass companion to a brown dwarf."

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