Feeds

Interstellar space 'full of Jupiter-size orphan planets'

Lone gas giants wander the empty reaches of the galaxy

Intelligent flash storage arrays

A team of astronomers has identified a novel new kind of galactic wanderer - lone, Jupiter-sized planets expelled from forming solar systems and drifting in the empty void between the stars.

The researchers, led by Takahiro Sumi of Japan's Osaka University, spotted 10 such free-floating "orphan planets" in data from a 2006-7 microlensing survey of our galaxy's centre, which searched for the tell-tale sign of transiting bodies' gravitational fields distorting light from distant stars.

Team member David Bennett, of the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, explained that this first sighting in a small portion of the Milky Way points to enormous numbers of orphans. He said: "Our survey is like a population census. We sampled a portion of the galaxy, and based on these data, can estimate overall numbers in the galaxy."

Artist's impression of a wandering Jupiter-like planet. Pic: NASA

In fact, the scientists reckon there are twice as many wandering Jupiters as there are stars – "hundreds of billions of lone planets" each ploughing a solitary furrow in the galactic ether. Takahiro Sumi said: "The existence of free-floating planets has been predicted by planetary formation theory, but nobody knew how many there are."

The microlensing technique used to nail the planets isn't sensitive to worlds smaller than Jupiter and Saturn, but since "lower-mass planets like Earth should be ejected from their stars more often" there are potentially even greater numbers of Earth-sized orphan planets out there.

The findings are published in today's edition of Nature, where astronomer Debra Fischer of Yale University said: "This is an amazing result, and if it's right, the implications for planet formation are profound."

NASA has more on the wandering Jupiters here. ®

Security for virtualized datacentres

More from The Register

next story
Boffins who stare at goats: I do believe they’re SHRINKING
Alpine chamois being squashed by global warming
Comet Siding Spring revealed as flying molehill
Hiding from this space pimple isn't going to do humanity's reputation any good
Experts brand LOHAN's squeaky-clean box
Phytosanitary treatment renders Vulture 2 crate fit for export
LONG ARM of the SAUR: Brachially gifted dino bone conundrum solved
Deinocheirus mirificus was a bit of a knuckle dragger
MARS NEEDS WOMEN, claims NASA pseudo 'naut: They eat less
'Some might find this idea offensive' boffin admits
No sail: NASA spikes Sunjammer
'Solar sail' demonstrator project binned
Carry On Cosmonaut: Willful Child is a poor taste Star Trek parody
Cringeworthy, crude and crass jokes abound in Steven Erikson’s sci-fi debut
prev story

Whitepapers

Choosing cloud Backup services
Demystify how you can address your data protection needs in your small- to medium-sized business and select the best online backup service to meet your needs.
Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.