Quantcast

Planet found floating alone beyond the solar system

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, October 9, 2013 23:00 EDT
google plus icon
This long-exposure photograph taken on Aug. 12, 2013 shows the Milky Way in the clear night sky near Yangon, Myanmar. [AFP]
 
  • Print Friendly and PDF
  • Email this page

Astronomers said Wednesday they have found a lonely planet outside the solar system floating alone in space and not orbiting a star.

The gaseous exoplanet, dubbed PSO J318.5-22, is just 80 light years from Earth and has a mass only six times that of Jupiter. Having formed 12 million years ago, the planet is considered a newborn among its peers.

“We have never before seen an object free-floating in space that looks like this. It has all the characteristics of young planets found around other stars, but it is drifting out there all alone,” said research team leader Michael Liu of the Institute for Astronomy at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

“I had often wondered if such solitary objects exist, and now we know they do.”

The researchers, whose study was published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters, identified the planet from its faint and unique heat signature using the Pan-STARRS 1 wide-field survey telescope on the Haleakala volcano of Hawaii’s Maui island.

They suggested the newly found planet may have the lowest mass of all known freely floating objects.

Other telescopes in Hawaii showed that the planet has similar properties to those of gas giants orbiting around young stars, but PSO J318.5-22 lacks a host star.

During the past decade, researchers have found about a thousand extrasolar planets using indirect methods, including planet-induced wobbling or dimming of their host stars.

But only a handful of these planets have been observed directly since most are orbiting around young stars less than 200 million years old and thus very bright.

PSO J318.5-22 “is going to provide a wonderful view into the inner workings of gas-giant planets like Jupiter shortly after their birth,” said co-author Niall Deacon of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Germany.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

Agence France-Presse
Agence France-Presse
AFP journalists cover wars, conflicts, politics, science, health, the environment, technology, fashion, entertainment, the offbeat, sports and a whole lot more in text, photographs, video, graphics and online.
 
 
 
 
By commenting, you agree to our terms of service
and to abide by our commenting policy.
 
Google+