Astronomers Spot Two Starless Rogue Planets Drifting Through Space

Tuesday, 13 November 2018 - 2:02PM
Astronomy
Space
Tuesday, 13 November 2018 - 2:02PM
Astronomers Spot Two Starless Rogue Planets Drifting Through Space
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Composite: NASA JL/Caltech & Pixabay
Over the past year or so, different scientific studies have argued that so-called 'rogue planets' (ie, planets without a star to orbit) should be either extremely plentiful or pretty rare. So far, astronomers have had a hard time actually spotting them, partly because they tend to drift through the darkness of space, away from sources of light. Despite the difficulty, astronomers from Warsaw University recently managed to spot two more rogue planets.

You may have seen the news surrounding the recent discovery of the mysterious object SIMP J01365663+0933473 (that's a mouthful), which has been identified as a rogue planet with an incredibly powerful magnetic field. It's one of only a few rogue planets ever confirmed, but it's now joined by OGLE-2017-BLG-0560 and OGLE-2012-BLG-1323, both spotted with the help of the Optical Gravitational Lensing Experiment (OGLE). The project operates on the knowledge that light from distant stars can be bent and warped by planets that come between that light and an observer (like a telescope here on Earth). By measuring the distortions in the light, scientists can judge the properties of the planet.

There is a problem, however. Estimating the size of both these rogue planets is difficult because the data can be affected by two things: distance from Earth and the mass of the planet. OGLE-2017-BLG-0560 and OGLE-2012-BLG-1323 may be large and far away or small and much closer, but the data from the light bent around them would be the same. It's a difficult situation for astronomers, who are still trying to unravel the nature or origin of these rogues.

Some of the current theories about how rogue planets end up alone include near-misses with other stars (or even black holes), a rough formation period that involves collisions or near-misses with other planets, or that they coalesced away from a star in the first place. If you're interested in learning more, check out this video and article by Fraser Cain.
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