Sounds hard to believe doesn’t it? Fact is though, Astronomers have discovered a new class of Jupiter-sized planets floating alone in space, away from the light of any star. It’s believed these lone worlds were probably ejected from developing planetary systems after intense gravitational reaction with other planets or stars.
A joint Japan-New Zealand survey scanned a portion of the center of the Milky Way during 2006 and 2007, revealing evidence for up to 10 free-floating planets roughly the mass of Jupiter. These lone orbs (also known as orphan planets), are incredibly difficult to spot and had remained hidden until now.
Artist's Impression - Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Free-floating planets had been predicted, but their actual discovery could have big implications for planetary formation and evolution theories. The data indicates there are many more free-floating Jupiter-mass planets that can’t be seen, with early estimates by the team behind this discovery suggesting they could outnumber stars by possibly two to one.
In addition, these worlds are thought to be at least as common as planets that orbit stars, which could mean there are hundreds of billions of lone planets in our Milky Way galaxy alone. Without a central star to circle, planets outside of the recognised “solar system” model move around the centre of our galaxy the same as our Sun and the other stars do.
The study (led by Takahiro Sumi from Osaka University in Japan) appears in the next issue of the journal “Nature“.
Read the full article in more detail on the NASA Site