Scientists have recently confirmed the existence of large number of free-floating planets, planets not part of any particular solar system. These are the Loneliest Planets of all.
Destined to roam the universe bumping along with no particular destination in mind and no traveling companions. Traditionally scientific belief has held that most planets orbited the sun they were formed around. A study has recently revealed – published in the scientific journal Nature – the possibility of 400 billion free-floating planets in the Milky Way.
This raises many questions, how were these planets formed and can we explain all of these planets with current theory. What happens to planets in their life time ? This is one of those interesting new discoveries that makes us reconsider what we take for granted. “This is an amazing result, and if it’s right, the implications for planet formation are profound,” says astronomer Debra Fischer at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.
While rogue planets are a well-known phenomenon, planets are often ejected from their solar system but it was only thought of as a rare phenomenon, not the norm. The results of the study into free roaming planets suggests there are many more of these free roaming planets than can be explained by this single theory, making it possible there is much activity and movement amongst the planets.
This new discovery isn’t a throw everything out and start over again moment but it does mean we may need to re-think the ways planets are formed. The distribution and make-up of planets through-out space is also looking a lot less organized. It;’s not just planets spinning around their sun in a nicely ordered fashion but also free-floating planets randomly traveling across space. The standard planet formation theory – Nebular hypothesis – revolves around the idea that a rotating disk of dust, compressed by gravity, slowly draws together to form the sun and planets. This will stay the dominant theory but there will now be a new generation of theories trying to explain these new observations Some new theories are already being discussed, outer planets being thrown off early in the solar systems formation, planets colliding and there is also the idea that a planet can form by itself from a smaller Nebulas dust cloud than a solar system is formed from.
Up until recently identifying free-floating planets was an extremely difficult exercise. Even spotting planets in orbit around a sun was no easy feat. Orbiting planets were identified by observing the planet’s sun and watching for the wink, as the planet passes in front of the star its light is blocked and it winks. Alternatively the wobble of the sun can be observed, the wobble is caused by the gravitational pull of the planet orbiting the sun. Even these clever techniques are useless when it comes to free-floating planets, with no sun to measure against free floating planets have remained a mystery, until recently. Using a technique called gravitational microlensing – using an objects gravitational effects on light – Sumi and his colleagues were able to spot over 450 possible free-floating planets while monitoring the light from 50 million stars for the microlensing effects. Of the 450 possibilities spotted 10 were singled out as extremely likely to be free-floating planets.
The study was conducted at New Zealand’s Mount John Observatory and Chile’s Las Campanas Observitory over a two-year period. During the study 10 extremely good candidates for free roaming planets were identified and the data confirmed by the MOA – Microlensing Observations in Astrophysics – and OGLE – Optical Gravitational Lensing Experiment – collaborations. .Study author Takahiro Sumi, an astrophysicist at Osaka University in Japan, says the deduced number of homeless exo-planets surprised him. “The existence of free-floating planets has been predicted by planetary formation theory, but nobody knew how many there are,” he says.
Panspermia is a theory growing in popularity based around the idea that life spreads around the universe through planetary impacts – comets and other planets -. The impacts eject proteins and other organic matter into space which eventually seeds life on another planet. Free floating planets may be an important part of process, and may help this theory gain a little traction
Don’t feel sorry for these lonely planets though, they are free. Free to roam the universe, free to do as they please. From time to time though they may be captured by the gravity of a passing sun, captured in orbit. You never can tell with a free roaming planet.
Buddha’s Brother out…