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A Rogue Planet - Right In Our Neighborhood

CFBDSIR2149 is probably a rogue planet, and the closest one ever found. Also called interstellar planets, such bodies are planet-sized and not tied to any star system.


(A Rogue Planet - Right In Our Neighborhood)

It was discovered by astronomers surveying a small clot of stars located just about 75 light years from Earth. This cluster, called AB Doradus, is a group of about 30 stars that probably formed together and are still moving through space together, like a swarm of bugs. Using various measurements of the stars themselves, astronomers have determined the stars are young: less than 200 million years old for sure, and possibly only a tenth that age.

The astronomers probed the cluster using a telescope sensitive to infrared light. They were specifically looking for objects of low mass, which, at the cluster’s age, tend to glow brightly at those wavelengths, still warm from their recent formation. What they found was CFBDSIR2149.

If it is indeed a member of the cluster, then it’s almost certainly a planet-like object. It would have a mass about four to seven times that of Jupiter: Earth-like, it ain’t. It’s big, but well below the mass a star would have, and still fairly safely in the range of what we call a planet. It has a temperature of about 450 degrees Celsius (850 degrees Fahrenheit), which is pretty warm by human standards, but even the smallest, coolest stars are hotter. Again, it looks more like a planet than a star.

But the most interesting bit is that there’s no star nearby! That is, it doesn’t appear to be orbiting a star; it’s sitting out there in the cluster, but pretty much on its own.


(When Worlds Collide cover)

The term rogue planet comes from Poul Anderson's 1967 novel Satan's World. But you'll find an earlier example in the 1932 story When World's Collide by Edwin Balmer and P. Wylie:

Bronson's calculations revealed to him that these wandering spheres would pass very close to the earth, make a circuit of our sun, and turn back toward space and infinity. The larger of the two wandering worlds would strike and annihilate the earth...

From CFBDSIR2149-0403: a 4-7 Jupiter-mass free-floating planet in the young moving group AB Doradus? via Slate. Thanks to Winchell Chung for the tip on this story.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 11/16/2012)

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