Feeds

Interstellar space 'full of Jupiter-size orphan planets'

Lone gas giants wander the empty reaches of the galaxy

Top three mobile application threats

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. ®

High performance access to file storage

More from The Register

next story
Most Americans doubt Big Bang, not too sure about evolution, climate change – survey
Science no match for religion, politics, business interests
KILLER SPONGES menacing California coastline
Surfers are safe, crustaceans less so
Discovery time for 200m WONDER MATERIALS shaved from 4 MILLENNIA... to 4 years
Alloy, Alloy: Boffins in speed-classification breakthrough
LOHAN and the amazing technicolor spaceplane
Our Vulture 2 livery is wrapped, and it's les noix du mutt
Liftoff! SpaceX Falcon 9 lifts Dragon on third resupply mission to ISS
SpaceX snaps smartly into one-second launch window
R.I.P. LADEE: Probe smashes into lunar surface at 3,600mph
Swan dive signs off successful science mission
Opportunity selfie: Martian winds have given the spunky ol' rover a spring cleaning
Power levels up 70 per cent as the rover keeps on truckin'
Elon Musk's LEAKY THRUSTER gas stalls Space Station supply run
Helium seeps from Falcon 9 first stage, delays new legs for NASA robonaut
prev story

Whitepapers

Mainstay ROI - Does application security pay?
In this whitepaper learn how you and your enterprise might benefit from better software security.
Combat fraud and increase customer satisfaction
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Top three mobile application threats
Learn about three of the top mobile application security threats facing businesses today and recommendations on how to mitigate the risk.
3 Big data security analytics techniques
Applying these Big Data security analytics techniques can help you make your business safer by detecting attacks early, before significant damage is done.