Rogue planet spied floating in space without a star

Some planets dare to be different. Astronomers have found a young planet that's not orbiting a host star.

PSO J318.5-22 art
An artist's idea of what the planet looks like. MPIA/V. Ch. Quetz

NASA may be laying low during the government shutdown, but that doesn't mean a lack of cool space news. A team of researchers from Hawaii has announced the discovery of an "exotic young planet" that is forging its own path in the universe by not bothering to orbit around a star.

The free-thinking planet, the scientists say, is 12 million years old, located just 80 light years from Earth, and sports a mass six times that of Jupiter. It's also extremely red, possibly from embarrassment at being caught naked out in space with no escort.

The planet has been saddled with the catchy name "PSO J318.5-22." Research team leader Michael Liu with the Institute for Astronomy at the University of Hawaii at Manoa says, "We have never before seen an object free-floating in space that that looks like this. It has all the characteristics of young planets found around other stars, but it is drifting out there all alone. I had often wondered if such solitary objects exist, and now we know they do."

Astronomers are excited about studying the young gas giant, since they won't have to contend with the brightness of a nearby star obstructing the view. The researchers stumbled across PSO J318.5-22 during a search for brown dwarfs, faint stars with a reddish color. The rogue planet discovery was a happy side effect that they have been monitoring for two years.

The research is set to be published in an upcoming issue of Astrophysical Journal Letters. Studying the rogue planet could help scientists gain a deeper understanding of what Jupiter was like when it was young.

 

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