Exoplanets May Reach 'Warp Speed'
According to a new study by Harvard astrophysicists, planets held close by stars that are ejected from our galaxy may become rogue worlds zooming through space at speeds of up to 30 million miles per hour, or a fraction of the speed of light.
"These warp-speed planets would be some of the fastest objects in the galaxy, aside from photons and particles like cosmic rays," said Avi Loeb, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass. "In terms of large, solid objects, they would be the fastest. It would take them 10 seconds or so to cross the diameter of the Earth."
"Other than subatomic particles, I don't know of anything leaving our galaxy as fast as these runaway planets," lead author Idan Ginsburg of Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., said in a statement.
A typical runaway planet would likely dash outward at 7 to 10 million mph (11.3 to 16.1 million kph), but given the right circumstances, a small fraction could have their speeds boosted to up to 30 million mph (48.3 million kph).
"It's like a pinball machine," Loeb said. "Things are kicking around, and if things happen to move in just the right way, a planet could get kicked out at a much higher speed than other planets."
As soon as i heard of this new theory about rogue planets, I thought of the planetary body controlled by Trelane in the classic 1967 Star Trek episode The Squire of Gothos, which actually moves fast enough to catch up to the Enterprise and block its path.
Update: Thanks to my sharp-eyed and expert readers, there are plenty of other science-fictional references to this idea; be sure to check out the comments on this story. Well done, readers! End update.
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