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By Marshall Connolly, Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

10/10/2013 (9 months ago)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Who would have thought astronomers could be so cruel?

If you traveled at the speed of light, it would still take a lifetime to arrive, but eighty light years from Earth astronomers believe they have discovered a lone planet, without a parent star. You may be lonely, but nothing is as lonely as this solitary giant.

PSO J318.5-22 appears as a red dot in the center of this image. It is certifiably the most lonely planet yet discovered.

PSO J318.5-22 appears as a red dot in the center of this image. It is certifiably the most lonely planet yet discovered.

Highlights

By Marshall Connolly, Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

10/10/2013 (9 months ago)

Published in Technology

Keywords: PSO J318.5-22, planet, rogue, Jupiter, mass, discovery


LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Adding insult to injury, its discovering astronomers have dubbed the planet a "rogue" cruelly pointing out that it appears to be an orphan without any parent whatsoever.

Far, far away from our Solar System, and even farther than several stars, astronomers have found, by direct imaging, a planet six times the size of Jupiter gliding gracefully through the heavens without a parent star in sight.

The lone world must be exceedingly cold without a star to warm it, but it still gives off infrared radiation, likely because if its size.

Dubbed PSO J318.5-22, the planet was discovered with the pan-STARRS 1 wide field survey telescope on Halekala, Maui.

The planet is the first to be clearly identified as a "rogue planet" or a planet without a parent star to orbit.

Previous reports of similar objects have not been clearly delineated to be planets or "brown dwarfs," which are not planets at all, but failed stars a bit too small to shine brightly.

In this case, it appears to clearly be a planet.

Rogue planets are just one of many rogue objects in space, that is objects just cruising through interstellar space without orbiting a parent body. Although this is the first such confirmed observation, the phenomenon is thought to be relatively common.

Rogue planets are created when gravitational perturbations of normal planetary orbits result from interactions with other planets, stars, or even black holes. Interactions with another gravitational force likely stripped the planet away from its parent star and flung it into space.

Such objects are difficult to detect because astronomers have no way of spotting them directly, other than luck. Planets orbiting stars are easy to find because they cause their parent stars to wobble as they orbit. Rogue planets however, have no parent start to shake, buy instead they float alone through space.

While this makes them much harder to discover, it also makes them easier to study. Rogue planets don't have a star to wash out the faint light shining off them, which allows scientists to determine the chemical makeup to the planet's atmosphere.

Scientists say they know this is a planet and not a brown dwarf because it shines redder than brown dwarfs do. Follow up observations confirmed the object was consistent with a planet as opposed to a failed star.

The planet is thought to be very young, possibly an offspring from the Beta Pictoris group which is a family of stars that formed just 12 million years ago. Astronomers have already discovered a giant planet orbiting the chief star of the group, Beta Pictoris. That planet is at least eight times the size of Jupiter.

Astronomers hope to learn more about rogue planets by studying PSO J318.5-22 further. Let's just hope they are kind enough to give it an easier name in the meantime.


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