A planet has been found wandering through space on its own – without a parent star.
The strange discovery is 100 light-years from Earth, and was spotted using ESO’s Very Large Telescope and the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope.
Scientists believe these ‘free floating’ worlds could be common – perhaps as numerous as the billions of ‘normal’ stars.
The absence of a bright star very close to it, has allowed the team to study the probable planet’s atmosphere in great detail – and could provide insights that will allow scientists to study other ‘exoplanets’ nearer to stars.
“Looking for planets around their stars is akin to studying a firefly sitting one centimetre away from a distant, powerful car headlight,” says Philippe Delorme (Institut de planetologie et d’astrophysique de Grenoble, lead author of the new study.
“This nearby free-floating object offered the opportunity to study the firefly in detail without the dazzling lights of the car messing everything up.”
Free-floating objects like CFBDSIR2149 are thought to form either as normal planets that have been booted out of their home systems, or as lone objects like the smallest stars or brown dwarfs.
“These objects are important, as they can either help us understand more about how planets may be ejected from planetary systems, or how very light objects can arise from the star formation process,” says Philippe Delorme.
“If this little object is a planet that has been ejected from its native system, it conjures up the striking image of orphaned worlds, drifting in the emptiness of space.”
This object also gives astronomers a preview of the exoplanets that future instruments aim to image around stars other than the Sun.
Free-floating planets are planetary-mass objects that roam through space without any ties to a star.
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