Scientists Discover New Planet That Has No Sun
A team of Scientists at the University of Montreal research facility (UdeM) in conjunction with European colleagues and data provided by the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope (CFHT) and the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (VLT,) has discovered a rogue planet in the Milky Way Galaxy.
“Although theorists had established the existence of this type of very cold and young planet, one had never been observed until today,” said Étienne Artigau, an astrophysicist at UdeM. “This object is also the closest planetary mass to our solar system that has ever been found.” The absence of a shining star in the vicinity of this planet enabled the team to study its atmosphere in great detail. This information will in turn enable astronomers to better understand exoplanets that do orbit stars.
They are calling it a “Homeless” planet because it does not orbit a star like the Earth, which is called an exoplanet because it does orbit a star, our Sun.
The newly found planet is termed a “Rogue” planet because it is not gravitationally bound to any star, brown dwarf star or any other star like object, and therefore orbits the Milky Way Galaxy directly.
“Over the past few years, several objects of this type have been identified, but their existence could not be established without scientific confirmation of their age,” explained Jonathan Gagné, a doctoral student of physics at UdeM. “Astronomers weren’t sure whether to categorize them as planets or as Brown Dwarfs. Brown dwarfs are what we could call failed stars, as they never manage to initiate nuclear reactions in their centers.”
The lead researcher on the team, Philippe Delorme, from the Laboratoire d’Astrophysique de l’Observatoire de Grenoble, found this rogue planet with the assistance of astrophysicists Gagné and Artigau, and Lison Malo and Loïc Albert, all of whom are astrophysicists with UdeM and the Centre for Research in Astrophysics of Quebec.
The new planet is being called CFBDSIR2149 for now, and it would appear that it is part of a group of very young objects that are referred to as the AB Doradus Moving Group. “This group is unique in that it is made up of around thirty stars that all have the same age, have the same composition and that move together through space. It’s the link between the planet and AB Doradus that enabled us to deduce its age and classify it as a planet,” Malo explained.
“Planet as a word originates from the Latin word planetus, which originally comes from the Greek words planeta or planêtês, meaning moving or wandering celestial bodies, as opposed to stars which appeared to be in a fixed position in the sky,” said Oliver Hernandez, an astrophysicist at UdeM.
In short, this is the first isolated planet – perhaps flung away during its formation – that is not tied by gravity to a star and whose mass, temperature and age meet the relevant criteria. This discovery, which has been sought after for more than a decade, supports theories relating to the formation of stars and planets. Moreover, it supports theories that suggest that these kinds of isolated objects are much more numerous than currently believed.
“This object was discovered during a scan that covered the equivalent of 1000 times the surface of the full moon,” Artigau explained. “We observed hundreds of millions of stars and planets, but we only found one homeless planet in our neighborhood. Now we will be looking for them amongst an astronomical number of sources further afield. It’s like looking for a single needle in amongst thousands of haystacks.”
Well we found the first one, the next one ought to be easier to find. But the scientific community as a whole is more interested in finding a Goldilocks planet, one that we could populate if our current planet has problems with inhabitability.
Article by Jim Donahue