My Apologies to the Brevard Astronomical Society and to the Planet Orbitar

Hello, friends!

I’ve been blogging for almost ten years now.  In that time, I’ve written and illustrated a lot of posts that I’m really proud of.  But I’ve also made some stupid mistakes, and I’ve posted things that I thought were funny at the time but, in retrospect, I’m not so proud of.

In 2016, I wrote this post about an exoplanet named Orbitar.  Today, I have to issue a retraction.  In that 2016 post, I attributed a quote to the Brevard Astronomical Society, the group that won the I.A.U.’s naming contest for the planet now known as Orbitar.  The quote was about the possibility that Orbitar might have moons and that those moons could possibly support life.

Well, somebody from the Brevard Astronomical Society got in touch to inform me that no one from their organization had made such a statement.  Turns out I did a sloppy job citing my sources for that 2016 post, so I can’t figure out where I got the quote from.  Hence, the need for this retraction.

Given that Orbitar orbits a red giant star at a distance of approximately 1.19 AU, it seems highly unlikely that any Orbitarian moons could support life.  It would be pretty outlandish and unscientific to claim otherwise.  I can understand why an astronomical society would not want to be associated with such a claim.

And another thing: in that 2016 post, I made fun of the name Orbitar.  I thought it was a doofy thing to name a planet.  But I have since gotten used to the name, and I’ve come to like it.  It’s unique.  It’s a name with a lot of personality.  I’m sure lots of planets wish they had such a cool name.

So I’d like to apologize to the planet Orbitar.  Even more so, I’d like to apologize to the Brevard Astronomical Society.  This isn’t the first time I’ve made a mistake on my blog, and it surely won’t be the last.  But using that quote without clearly citing my source was an especially stupid mistake, and I’m very sorry for doing it.

Next time on Planet Pailly, we’ll check out some of the cool stuff other space and science bloggers have been up to lately!

Exoplanet Explorer: Orbitar

Today’s post is the first in what I hope will become a semi-regular series about exoplanets: planets that orbit stars other than our Sun. I’ve decided to start with an exoplanet named Orbitar.


In December of 2015, the exoplanet designated 42 Draconis b was officially renamed Orbitar following a public naming contest held by the International Astronomy Union. Orbitar is a gas giant planet orbiting a red giant star approximately 315 light-years away in the constellation Draco.

Discovering Orbitar

The gravitational pull between planets and the stars they orbit causes stars to wobble in place. When the star 42 Draconis was found to wobble at a regular interval of 479 days, it was determined that a large planet with a 479 day orbital period was likely responsible.

Further calculations determined that this planet had an average orbital distance of 1.19 AU and an orbital eccentricity of 38%. The planet’s total mass was estimated to be equivalent to at least 3.88 Jupiters, give or take 0.85 Juptiers.

Life on Orbitar’s Moons?

According to the Brevard Astronomical Society, the group that won the IAU naming contest for Orbitar, “this closely orbiting gas planet could possibly host moons with Earth-like characteristics in the so-called habitable zone.”

Personally, I feel that’s a bit over-optimistic. At an orbital distance of 1.19 AU, Orbitar and its hypothetical moons would certainly would be within our Sun’s habitable zone, but 42 Draconis (which was renamed Fafnir in the IAU contest) is over twice our Sun’s age and has entered the red giant phase of its life cycle.

I may be wrong about this, but I’d expect that Fafnir’s habitable zone would lie well beyond the 1.19 AU distance. Orbitar’s moons (if they exist) should have been charred to cinders by now.

However, that still leaves us with the possibility that Orbitarian life could have existed at some point in the distant past, when Fafnir was still young and still a main sequence star like our Sun.

P.S.: As far as I can tell, the name Planety McPlanetface was not submitted to the IAU’s planet naming contest.

Correction: The “Life on Orbitar’s Moons” section of this post was based on a quote which was misattributed to the Brevard Astronomical Society.  See the comments below.  I can no longer find the original source for that quote.


Orbitar, Really? Some New Exoplanet Names Are Downright Weird from Ars Technica.

Planetary Companion Candidates Around K Giant Stars 42 Draconis and HD 139 357 from Astronomy & Astrophysics.

Name Exoworlds: An IAU Worldwide Contest to Name Exoplanets from the International Astronomy Union.