Astronomers have discovered a new gaseous planet has been discovered nearly 1,000 light-years from Earth, in the constellation Lyra.

Gaseous Planet Discovered

Gaseous Planet orbit places it beyond the “snow line”

What’s unusual is the planet’s orbit places it beyond the “snow line” – the dividing line between rocky and gas planets. Outside of the snow line, water condenses into ice grains that stick together to build gas giant planets.  “The snow line is a crucial distance in planet formation theory. We think all gas giants must have formed beyond this distance,” said study lead author David Kipping, of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Gaseous planets are rarely found past the snow line.

“Finding Kepler-421b was a stroke of luck,” Kipping said in a statement. “The farther a planet is from its star, the less likely it is to transit the star from Earth’s point of view. It has to line up just right.”

Gaseous Planet named Kepler-421b

The new planet, named Kepler-421b, is about the size of Uranus and was discovered by NASA’s Kepler space telescope.  The creatively named Kepler-421b orbits a star that is cooler and dimmer than the sun the earth orbits.  It rotates about 110 million miles away from the star and can give a Chicago winter a run for its money, as the planet has dropped to a bone chilling temperature of -135° Fahrenheit.

Researchers say Kepler was uniquely suited to make this discovery. The spacecraft stared with determination at the same patch of sky for 4 years. Every day it watched for stars that dim as planets cross in front of them, making this effort unmatched in its mission shows such a long-term, dedicated focus. Despite its patience, Kepler only detected two transits of Kepler-421b due to that world’s extremely long orbital period, calculated to be near 740 days.  The earth, by contrast rotates around the sun every 365 days.

Kepler has found nearly 1,000 alien worlds, according to one report, and has identified more than 3,000 candidates that still need are to be confirmed by additional study. The report said that typically 90 percent of these studies confirm new planets.

“This is the first example of a potentially non-migrating gas giant in a transiting system that we’ve found,” adds Kipping.

This research has been accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal and is available online. Additional information can be found here.

The Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) is Headquartered in Cambridge, MA. It is a joint collaboration between the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and the Harvard College Observatory.