Wednesday last week, astronomers of University of Montreal have uncovered a cosmic first – a lonely planet outside the solar system floating alone without a star to orbit.
The discovery is the first confirmed sighting of a so-called “free-floating plant” which stargazing scientists have theorized the existence for many years.
“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,” he added.
The lonely planet is 80 light years away from Earth, and is said to be very young, between 50 to 120 million years old, with quite big celestial body where researchers estimated it’s mass to be somewhere between four and seven times the mass of Jupiter. Even at that enormous size, CFBDSIR2149 is still definitely a planet, falling well short of the 13 Jupiters worth of mass that would be necessary to classify it as a brown dwarf star.
It meanders about a cluster of stars known as the AB Doradus Moving Group. While It wanders through this group of stars, though, it doesn’t call any of them home, seemingly preferring a life on the rails, not unlike some glorious space-hobo.
Other telescopes in Hawaii showed that the planet has similar properties to those of gas giants orbiting around young stars, but CFBDSIR2149 lacks a host star.
CFBDSIR2149 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.