Feeds

Interstellar space 'full of Jupiter-size orphan planets'

Lone gas giants wander the empty reaches of the galaxy

High performance access to file storage

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
Elon Musk's LEAKY THRUSTER gas stalls Space Station supply run
Helium seeps from Falcon 9 first stage, delays new legs for NASA robonaut
Red-faced LOHAN team 'fesses up in blown SPEARS fuse fiasco
Standing in the corner, big pointy 'D' hats
KILLER SPONGES menacing California coastline
Surfers are safe, crustaceans less so
LOHAN's Punch and Judy show relaunches Thursday
Weather looking good for second pop at test flights
Discovery time for 200m WONDER MATERIALS shaved from 4 MILLENNIA... to 4 years
Alloy, Alloy: Boffins in speed-classification breakthrough
Curiosity finds not-very-Australian-shaped rock on Mars
File under 'messianic pastries' and move on, people
Top Secret US payload launched into space successfully
Clandestine NRO spacecraft sets off on its unknown mission
Get your MOON GEAR: Auction to feature Space Race memorabilia
Keepsakes from early NASA, Soviet programs up for bids
New FEMTO-MOON sighted BIRTHING from Saturn's RING
Icy 'Peggy' looks to be leaving the outer rings
prev story

Whitepapers

Securing web applications made simple and scalable
In this whitepaper learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
HP ArcSight ESM solution helps Finansbank
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.
Mobile application security study
Download this report to see the alarming realities regarding the sheer number of applications vulnerable to attack, as well as the most common and easily addressable vulnerability errors.