Feeds

Interstellar space 'full of Jupiter-size orphan planets'

Lone gas giants wander the empty reaches of the galaxy

SANS - Survey on application security programs

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. ®

Top three mobile application threats

More from The Register

next story
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
Fancy joining Reg hack on quid-a-day challenge?
Recruiting now for charity starvation diet
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
Elon Musk's LEAKY THRUSTER gas stalls Space Station supply run
Helium seeps from Falcon 9 first stage, delays new legs for NASA robonaut
Top Secret US payload launched into space successfully
Clandestine NRO spacecraft sets off on its unknown mission
prev story

Whitepapers

Designing a defence for mobile apps
In this whitepaper learn the various considerations for defending mobile applications; from the mobile application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies needed to properly assess mobile applications 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.
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.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
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.