Rogue Mega-Planet With A Supercharged Magnetic Field And Vicious Auroras Discovered Just Twenty Light Years Away

Tuesday, 07 August 2018 - 11:53AM
Space
Science News
Tuesday, 07 August 2018 - 11:53AM
Rogue Mega-Planet With A Supercharged Magnetic Field And Vicious Auroras Discovered Just Twenty Light Years Away
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Caltech/Chuck Carter; NRAO/AUI/NSF
A megaplanet thirteen times the size of Jupiter has emerged from the darkness wrapped in a glowing aurora. This behemoth does not orbit any star, and we've never seen anything like it before.




This object – SIMP J01365663+0933473 – hovers a mere 20 light years from Earth. With a scorching surface temperature of 1,500° Fahrenheit, it is estimated to be 200 million years old (when the Jurassic period was just kicking off down here on Earth).

Equally unsettling is the planet's magnetic field: it's 200 times stronger than Jupiter's pull which, according to astronomers, should not be physically possible. This magnetic field is so strong that the planet unleashes its blazing auroras in a constant deadly light show.

With no star to tether it in orbit, SIMP J01365663+0933473 has been classified as a "rogue planet" spinning unchecked through space.

Stranger still is how the superplanet was detected: incredibly, the VLA picked up on the radio waves emanating from its aurora. According to Gregg Hallinan of Caltech, "We may have a new way of detecting exoplanets, including the elusive rogue ones not orbiting a parent star."

Astronomers originally believed this massive planet was a brown dwarf star when it was first spotted in 2016 using the Very Large Array telescope about 130 miles outside Albuquerque, New Mexico. Brown dwarf stars are often called "failed stars" because they are too small to fuse hydrogen the way a star would, but too large to fit our (current and apparently limited) definition of a planet.

Melodie Kao, an astrophysicist at Arizona State University and lead author of the study, added, "Studying its magnetic dynamo mechanisms can give us new insights on how the same type of mechanisms can operate in extrasolar planets - planets beyond our solar system."

This is only the latest in a string of dazzling exoplanet discoveries. The University of Cambridge recently discovered new planets with the same life-giving properties as Earth, and the NASA TESS Telescope is officially hunting for alien worlds beyond our solar system. (Yes, really.) By expanding our scope and definition of what a planet is, we become better-equipped to map our galaxy as we expand beyond the limits of our home on Earth.

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