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Wandering Sunless Planets Seen By Kepler Telescope

An interesting new study points to the possibility that interstellar space has free-floating planets, untethered to host stars as is our captive Earth:

The study, led by Iain McDonald of the University of Manchester, UK, (now based at the Open University, UK) used data obtained in 2016 during the K2 mission phase of NASA's Kepler Space Telescope. During this two-month campaign, Kepler monitored a crowded field of millions of stars near the center of our Galaxy every 30 minutes in order to find rare gravitational microlensing events.

The study team found 27 short-duration candidate microlensing signals that varied over timescales of between an hour and 10 days. Many of these had been previously seen in data obtained simultaneously from the ground. However, the four shortest events are new discoveries that are consistent with planets of similar masses to Earth.

These new events do not show an accompanying longer signal that might be expected from a host star, suggesting that these new events may be free-floating planets. Such planets may perhaps have originally formed around a host star before being ejected by the gravitational tug of other, heavier planets in the system. PhysOrg)

Science fiction authors have long displayed this idea to their readers; for example, Isaac Asimov uses this idea in his Foundation series. This quote is from Dead Hand published in 1946. He called it a sunless planet:

Then the great ships passed on to weave their line of forward bases further around the Foundation. And as each world was knotted into its proper place in the fabric, the report went back to Bel Riose at the General Headquarters he had established on the rocky barrenness of a wandering sunless planet

(Via PhysOrg)

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