Feeds

Galaxy is teeming with homeless planets

Born under a wandering star…

Security for virtualized datacentres

The galaxy – and presumably, if we’re in a normal-enough galaxy, the rest of the universe – has a bit less empty space than we thought, according to a study by the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics (KIPAC).

The research suggests the Milky Way could hold many millions of “nomad planets” – many thousands existing for each main-sequence star in the galaxy.

KIPAC – a joint institute of Stanford University and America’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory – is suggesting that nomad planets could outnumber stars in the Milky Way, by as much as 100,000:1.

Over recent years, gravitational microlensing (the refocusing of a star’s light by planets passing “in front” of them) has provided new insights into planets that don’t appear to be bound to stars.

Louis Strigari, leader of the team that reported the results to the Royal Astronomical Society, suggests that some of the planetary orphans could even retain enough heat for microbial life – if they have enough tectonic and radioactive processes to generate heat and enough atmosphere to retain it.

Most of the 500-odd exoplanets discovered in the past two decades orbit stars, but last year, astronomers turned up a dozen nomad planets that don’t orbit stars. Some may have been ejected from the solar systems in which they formed; others may need to be explained with new theories of planetary formation.

However, Strigari believes known values like the mass of the galaxy (estimated from its gravitational pull) mean it could be “teeming” with nomad planets. As new instruments like the ground-based Large Synoptic Survey Telescope and the space-based Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope, both of which will come into service during the 2020s, will provide the kind of observations that will drive new estimates of the number of nomads, Strigari’s paper states.

Strigari also speculates that nomad planets, if they are able to harbor life, could also provide a vector for scattering it through the galaxy. He is, however, clear that such ideas are speculative. ®

Remote control for virtualized desktops

More from The Register

next story
Voyager 1 now EIGHTEEN LIGHT HOURS from home
Almost 20 BEEELION kilometres from Sol
Ex-Soviet engines fingered after Antares ROCKET launch BLAST
Speculation rife, but Orbital claims it's too early to tell
MEN: For pity's sake SLEEP with LOTS of WOMEN - and avoid Prostate Cancer
And, um, don't sleep with other men. If that's what worries you
Jim Beam me up, Scotty! WHISKY from SPAAACE returns to Earth
They're insured for $1m, before you thirsty folks make plans
ROGUE SAIL BOAT blocks SPACE STATION PODULE blastoff
Er, we think our ISS launch beats your fishing expedition
NASA: Spacecraft crash site FOUND ON MOON RIM
'What fun!' exlaims NASA boffin who found the LADEE
Comet Siding Spring revealed as flying molehill
Hiding from this space pimple isn't going to do humanity's reputation any good
BAE points electromagnetic projectile at US Army
Railguns for 'Future fighting vehicle'
prev story

Whitepapers

Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.
A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Top 5 reasons to deploy VMware with Tegile
Data demand and the rise of virtualization is challenging IT teams to deliver storage performance, scalability and capacity that can keep up, while maximizing efficiency.
Mitigating web security risk with SSL certificates
Web-based systems are essential tools for running business processes and delivering services to customers.