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New Lost Planet Found Floating in Space 100 Light Years Away





Astronomers using ESO’s Very Large Telescope and the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope have identified a body that is very probably a planet wandering through space without a parent star. These worlds could be common — perhaps as numerous as normal stars. This is the most exciting free-floating planet candidate so far and the closest such object to the Solar System at a distance of about 100 light-years.

Its comparative proximity, and the absence of a bright star very close to it, has allowed the team to study its atmosphere in great detail. This object also gives astronomers a preview of the exoplanets that future instruments aim to image around stars other than the Sun.

“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 planétologie et d’astrophysique de Grenoble, CNRS/Université Joseph Fourier, France), 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 planets are planetary-mass objects that roam through space without any ties to a star. Possible examples of such objects have been found before, but without knowing their ages, it was not possible for astronomers to know whether they were really planets or brown dwarfs — “failed” stars that lack the bulk to trigger the reactions that make stars shine.

These rogue objects started to become known in the 1990s, when astronomers found that the point at which a brown dwarf crosses over into the planetary mass range is difficult to determine. More recent studies have suggested that there may be huge numbers of these little bodies in our galaxy, a population numbering almost twice as many as the main sequence stars present.

But astronomers have now discovered an object, labelled CFBDSIR2149, that seems to be part of a nearby stream of young stars known as the AB Doradus Moving Group. The object was identified as part of an infrared extension of the Canada-France Brown Dwarfs Survey (CFBDS), a project hunting for cool brown dwarf stars. The researchers found the object in observations from the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope and harnessed the power of ESO’s Very Large Telescope to examine its properties.

The AB Doradus Moving Group is the closest such group to the Solar System. Its stars drift through space together and are thought to have formed at the same time. If the object is associated with this moving group — and hence it is a young object — it is possible to deduce much more about it, including its temperature, mass, and what its atmosphere is made of. There remains a small probability that the association with the moving group is by chance.

The association with the AB Doradus Moving Group would pin down the mass of the planet to approximately 4–7 times the mass of Jupiter, with an effective temperature of approximately 430 degrees Celsius. The planet’s age would be the same as the moving group itself — 50 to 120 million years.

The link between the new object and the moving group is the vital clue that allows astronomers to find the age of the newly discovered object. This is the first isolated planetary mass object ever identified in a moving group, and the association with this group makes it the most interesting free-floating planet candidate identified so far.The team’s statistical analysis of the object’s proper motion — its angular change in position across the sky each year — shows an 87% probability that the object is associated with the AB Doradus Moving Group, and more than 95% probability that it is young enough to be of planetary mass, making it much more likely to be a rogue planet rather than a small “failed” star. More distant free-floating planet candidates have been found before in very young star clusters, but could not be studied in detail.

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. In either case these objects are intriguing — either as planets without stars, or as the tiniest possible objects in a range spanning from the most massive stars to the smallest 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.”

If CFBDSIR2149 is not associated with the AB Doradus Moving Group it is trickier to be sure of its nature and properties, and it may instead be characterised as a small brown dwarf. Both scenarios represent important questions about how planets and stars form and behave.

“Further work should confirm CFBDSIR2149 as a free-floating planet,” concludes Philippe Delorme. “This object could be used as a benchmark for understanding the physics of any similar exoplanets that are discovered by future special high-contrast imaging systems, including the SPHERE instrument that will be installed on the VLT.”

This research is presented in a paper, “CFBDSIR2149-0403: a 4-7 Jupiter-mass free-floating planet in the young moving group AB Doradus?” to appear in Astronomy & Astrophysics on 14 November 2012.

The Daily Galaxy via ESO


I always found the term "Rogue Planet" to be a better name for these so called free floating planets. So I hope that name catches on.

"Free Floating" sounds whimsical... but "Rogue Planet" just sounds... much cooler.

Also I've noticed a lot of people dismiss these worlds in terms of the potential for life, since they don't have a parent star, and are just drifting through cold space.

But in fact, this means they might be drifting within highly stable and constant conditions for billions of years longer than they could if they were orbiting a star.

Stars can often be chaotic, stormy, ejecting high speed matter and radiation... and sometimes they blow up!

So for example, you could have a Jupiter-like planet drifting freely through space, with an orbiting ocean-like planet (Europa) covered in ice, for billions upon billions of years longer than it would, if it were orbiting a star...

thereby giving evolution a huge time advantage to come up with some rather complex creatures!

Like-wise, an ejected planet like Earth teaming with life, would freeze over, but then life could persist for billions of years under oceans and thermal vents...

I have called them, non-captive. why not call it free-drifting. Who comes up with this stuff.Free-Floating sounds stupid.

How about calling them Exostellar Planets.

It's a starship...:)

Its the vastness of space and the marvels of the universe that inspires in me the belief in alien life,it is inconceivable to my mind that we are the only ones looking or listening and searching.That would be the ultimet waist of space

Did I read 100 light years correctly?
This is not a near by object!

I agree with Velocity, considering the fact that moons of Jupiter and Saturn may be able to support, it is very possible life could arise in a moon around one of these rogue or exostellar planets. Even far from a star, and in cold areas, we know heat can be generated through tidal effects as well as radiation.
And ti Allan Janssen, 100 light years away is very far away in context to us as humans, but in a astronomical context it is fairly close considering the fact we can observe galaxies billions of light years away.

I'm with Velocity and Steve that these rogue planets have high potential for life due to their ultra-long stability. Life might even be more common on these rogue planets. Aside from the high stability of cold, deep space, the lack of a star is a plus because they don't attract billions of little objects that can smash into a planet. Life around a star is essentially on a timer. We either evolve and leave our home star when it dies or we die with it. There is no such clock with a rogue planet.

Nature would have many opportunities to create intelligent life and that's all you can ask for is a chance. Humans might be here by chance. Even if intelligent life were a freak anomaly of evolution within the entire universe, the universe is sufficiently large to recreate such an ultra rarity many times. Even if we are the only intelligent ones in our galaxy.

On a side note, What would star-gazing be like on these worlds with no light pollution from their parent star? Would the rogue observatories be naturally more suited to locate other rogue worlds?

"Its comparative proximity, and the absence of a bright star very close to it, has allowed the team to study its atmosphere in great detail."
I was questioning how someone could study its atmosphere at a distance of 100 light years!

that's no moon...

Has anyone considered that this is probably a weather balloon?

Or swamp gas!

I like the scenario of tidal heating sustaining life on a planet without the dangers of having a star. It doesn't necessarily have to be hot like in a stellar system but needs to be 'warm' enough to produce the compounds that can kick-start some type of life, not necessarily the same ones that started or even sustain life on Earth.

I am not sure but I wonder, how long can tidal heating continue in a rogue binary-planet system or a lone planet with a moon? Can the heating last longer than what a star can sustain. I seriously doubt it. In fact, if the bodies get tidally locked there goes your heating out the window. I think the only way for life to start on such a planet would be if it came from somewhere else and was at least a Type II civilization capable of stellar engineering and the extraction of heat from 'nearby' stars/star systems.

I agree with Mr.T

"I've got a bad feeling about this..."

HEY! how wierd ..only last night I watched film about such a thing,"a rouge" planet,strangely called ,MELANCHOLIA Is caught in the sun,s gravity,equal in size does a figure "8" around the sun & earth,mainly seen by the psych-analitical & emotional reactions of a small section of people maybe facing impending doom changes their aspects of reality....wont spoil it:))
old mega stars and contemporary newbies,collide in this film I reccomend MELAMCHOLIA (ON NETFLIX or wherever you find it)

Instead of lost planet …. how about Planet Spaceship … how about a hollow domicile sphere … complete with it’s own inner star gate always linked to what ever star world it’s originally from … never lost because it navigation system are always updated … a self sustained Planet Spaceship, traveling on a never ending journey exploring never ending seas of space and time … seas of this the 7th Universal Plane and seas of the upper Higher Universal Planes … Maybe they might pick up a hitchhiker or two …

Its only 1 lightyear away. Little more than twice plutos orbital diameter. If you read and study red shift theory you will see that standard distance measurement on astronometic distances from Earth have been sorely miscalculated. For instance the speed at which several galaxies are travelling in a given dirdction has been calculated at more that a thousand times the speed of light. Which is obviously impossible. So I encourage everyone do a bit of rssearch and you will find yourself surprised when you realize everything is not so far away. Check your mirror, stars are closer than they appear.

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