NASA Spots Death Star-Like ‘Free-Floating’ Planets In Deep Space
NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope has spotted a number of ‘free-floating’ planets out in Deep Space.
That’s no moon, nor is it a Death Star. However, it is comparable to the latter, with the telescope discovering a total of four rogue planets with a similar mass to Earth – only they aren’t attached to any particular solar system.
The host star may still be burning somewhere in space, experts say, but it’s likely the free-floating worlds simply left the ‘gravitational tug’ of other planets and were left to the void of the cosmos.
According to a new study from researchers at the University of Manchester, published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society journal, free-floating planetary-mass objects ‘may represent the end-states of disrupted exoplanetary systems’.
Researchers used the telescope to find the planets through gravitational lensing, in which a planet ‘traverses the observer’s line of sight towards a background star’, although there are a large number of variables that can affect the line of sight, and a lensing event is considered to be very rare.
The Kepler telescope was decommissioned by NASA back in 2018, less than 10 years into operation, as it ran out of fuel. Its primary objective was to identify exoplanets, aka planets outside of our own solar system.
The study used data from the telescope’s K2 mission in 2016, an extension of the original mission in which it looked at millions of stars every 30 minutes, scanning for these microlensing events that could lead to the discovery of new planets.
‘These signals are extremely difficult to find. Our observations pointed an elderly, ailing telescope with blurred vision at one the most densely crowded parts of the sky, where there are already thousands of bright stars that vary in brightness, and thousands of asteroids that skim across our field,’ Professor Iain McDonald, author of the study, told MailOnline.
Commenting on the rogue planets, he said, ‘We don’t know exactly how far away they are. They are not among the nearest stars, but closer than the centre of our galaxy. So it’s probably most accurate to say they are several thousand light years away.’
‘If a planet like the Earth was flung out into deep space, far from the heat of a star, we’d expect the oceans to freeze over and the atmosphere to condense out onto the surface. Life could still continue, but only in places like hydrothermal vents, where there is another energy source,’ McDonald added.
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Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society