Truly surprising science discovery – free floating planets

This is the last thing I expected, we live in an amazing age of discovery. From the AAAS:

Astrophysicist Takahiro Sumi of Osaka University in Japan and colleagues—who form the Microlensing Observations in Astrophysics (MOA) and the Optical Gravitational Lensing Experiment (OGLE) collaborations—now appear to have figured out what is what. In a paper published online today in Nature, the researchers list 10 objects in our galaxy that are very likely to be free-floating planets. What’s more, they claim that in our galaxy, free-floaters are probably so populous that they outnumber stars.

Full story here

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95 Responses to Truly surprising science discovery – free floating planets

  1. Sean says:

    So that is what dark matter looks like.

  2. Jenn Oates says:

    I don’t know why I even try to teach science, as it always changes and the ancillary materials I have are constantly out of date–like the reading I have for them about extra-solar planets (which is actually on the CA Earth Science standards). English teachers just don’t have these problems. :)

  3. a jones says:

    Ah yes ‘Waifs and Strays’.

    Well what goes around comes around. A long time ago I studied under Hoyle, he of the steady state universe, where this topic was of some importance to his theory but of course back then it was supposition since there was no means of observing such a thing.

    How important it was to his steady state universe I have never been quite sure since he threw me out fairly early on in my studies for being a big bang heretic and I ended up having to go to the other shop.

    Plus ca change etc.

    Still absolutely fascinating that we can can now see things we could only speculate upon back then. What these new observations might mean is entirely beyond me.

    Kindest Regards

  4. omnologos says:

    don’t you ever believe any hype. these are likely to be Jupiters orbiting far from the parent stars. the dynamics of expelling planets from a system is daunting to say the least.

  5. Patrick says:

    @Jenn, actually, English teachers have to be on the cutting edge of painfully awkward gender-neutral neologisms, deconstructionist arguments that prove what is written is thee opposite of what is meant, and the ever accelerating treadmill of euphemisms, or else they shall be branded haters, apostates, and right-wingers.

  6. Lee says:

    Let’s suppose there is a supernova, and that there are some loose big planets in the neighborhood, say around a lightyear further away (or whatever distance is required) – this supernova should light them up as though by a nearby star, though only for a short while. So if we carefully examine the area around a supernova for several months to several years later we may notice some bright small objects appear after the supernova has faded, because the light from the lit-up planets shows up a little later due to the longer path to us.

  7. AdderW says:

    No one really likes a floater…

  8. jorgekafkazar says:

    This is like driving down a country road at night and learning there may be a redneck moonshiner coming the other way in a truck with his lights off.

  9. Jim Masterson says:

    This actually makes sense. The orbits of planets in our solar system appear to be chaotic over the long term.

    I remember a paper discussing the problems of modeling planetary orbits using first principles over long periods of time–millions or billions of years. Either the planets spiral into their star or they slowly drift away and leave the planetary system. To prevent these occurrences, a damping factor has to be added to stabilize the orbits.

    Sometimes two planets will interact resulting in one of the planets being ejected entirely.

    What surprises me is that they are estimating two rogue planets for every visible star. That’s a lot of rogue planets in the galaxy.

    Jim

  10. Lee says:

    These planets were found by brightening of background starlight by the gravitational lensing effect. My thought would be that dark objects in inter-stellar space would darken the night sky by blocking starlight. Does this lensing effect mean that whenever they would ‘block’ starlight, they actually collect more of it from a wider area and focus it on us to produce a brighter sky? That is a hard idea to accept. Let’s suppose there is a solar-system sized volume containing the mass of one jupiter in uniformly scattered dust – would it have the same gravitational lensing effect as a single planet of that mass, or is the lensing effect over an area smaller than a solar system? I would expect density might be as important as mass in space bending, but I am not sure at all.

  11. MattH says:

    AdderW says:
    May 19, 2011 at 11:32 pm

    No one really likes a floater…

    But the rest of us are flush with excitement!!

  12. Neil Jones says:

    And we’ve been worrying about asteroid strike.

    One of these on a collision course, that really is Flash Gordon territory.

  13. Timebandit says:

    They have been searching for the ‘extra’ mass that should be in the universe for years and called it ‘ dark matter’ … maybe these are part of it???

  14. omnologos says:

    @Timebandit – not by a long shot.

  15. Smokey says:

    jorgekafkazar says:

    “This is like driving down a country road at night and learning there may be a redneck moonshiner coming the other way in a truck with his lights off.”

    Yes, this wrecks my dreams of accelerating to 3% of light speed to get to the nearest stars. While you’re cruising along @5580 miles per second… BAM!

  16. Pompous Git says:

    AdderW said @ May 19, 2011 at 11:32 pm

    “No one really likes a floater…”

    In South Australia they eat ‘em. Meat pie floating in pea soup with a large dollop of tomato sauce (ketchup) on top. Never could come at eating one, but I used to dip my chips (fries) in mushy peas in UKLand too many years ago…

  17. Lee says:

    I wonder what Velikovsky might have done with the thought that there might be a couple of solar system’s worth of planets just floating around in the relatively near vicinity. Would these worlds be ‘loosely’ in far orbit around the solar system. Would they be relatively stable in galactic orbits but not connected to the solar system? Would they just be randomly moving about – different speeds, different directions?

    Talk about extinction catastrophes that might not leave a trace – a Jupiter size planet hitting the sun would almost ceratinly cause life disrupting, if not like ending solar explosions and flares. And I doubt it would come out the other

  18. oldseadog says:

    They aren’t planets; they are just coagulations of lost e-mails.

  19. I can see it now: some holywood script writer having torn up his “the world is going to end when it gets a little bit warmer (maybe) disaster script” is gleefully starting a new script:

    deep in dark space, travelling eons lost in the Universe a frozen planet of Aliens are heading this way …

  20. James of the West says:

    Watch for the Planet X groupies latching onto this discovery. They have “predicted” that 2012 will mark the return of the wandering Planet X which will end civilisatiion on Earth. Apparently the government is covering up the approach because they dont want us to panic LOL this article will be fuel to their fire….

  21. Alan the Brit says:

    Oh no!!!! The extra manmade CO2 is going to destabilize our orbit, & we’ll be lost in space for ever, oh no, oh no, oh no………..Give them time peeps.

    I don’t think somehow, given the “mass” of the universe, a few zillion large homeless planets are going to provide the hidden “mass” that people speak of. My usual thoughts are if someone has done a calculation & things don’t add up, the sums are probably wrong in the first place. Besides, another theory is waiting in the wings, there always is! Next.

  22. John Marshall says:

    Our ability to detect such things seems to continue to improve and long may this continue.

  23. Adam says:

    I don’t know why this is surprising. People are always telling me that if the earth moved any faster it would be flung out into space and any slower it would fall into the sun. Usually they use this as a reason for believing in God (let’s not start a religious argument here), but to me it meant that most likely there were thousands of planets orbiting the sun shortly after the big bang and now that all of them dropped into the sun or have been flung out into space we only see nine left. The planets we are discovering now are just the ones that moved to fast to stay around the sun. The only surprising thing is that we already have the technology to find them.

  24. Joe Lalonde says:

    Anthony,

    Did scientists get into the wrong line when brains were handed out?
    The train line rather than the brain line?

    The more I delve into science, the more I find that any model generated trumps physical evidence. Even though some science is off by millions of meter when backdating the research conclusions to a younger planet.

  25. Kelvin Vaughan says:

    MattH says:
    May 19, 2011 at 11:42 pm

    AdderW says:
    May 19, 2011 at 11:32 pm

    No one really likes a floater…

    But the rest of us are flush with excitement!!

    This is a load of crap!

  26. John of Kent says:

    “Sean says:
    May 19, 2011 at 11:01 pm

    So that is what dark matter looks like.”

    Exactly! Dark matter merely means the 90% of mass of the universe that is dark, i.e. not burning stars. These free floating planets are just the tip of the dark cold iceberg.
    This is the “missing mass” that will eventually slow the expansion of the universe and possibly cause it to start to contract at some point- in which case as space-time will be contracting, will the direction of time go into reverse?

    No need for exotic “dark matter” no need for “string theory” either!

  27. Jer0me says:

    But this is definitely caused by CO2. Our models have now proved this.

    Planets get so hot that they literally explode, and bits of them get distributed around the cosmos. What is not certain is how these planets are now cool. A delayed rebound form an aerosol effect is expected to be the cause.

    We desperately need more funding to examine this and see how it may affect the current climate on Earth. The consensus among scientologists is that the CO2 created by man will cause the very same thing to happen on Earth. Apparently, accumulating a mass of dollars to mitigate this effect may be the only way to avert it, according to other models.

    Please send more funds immediately. The universe is in dire danger!

  28. Gary says:

    Space 1999. Martin Landau and Barbara Bain were onto something…

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space:_1999

  29. Wondering Aloud says:

    Well, to me, this report, especially the part about how many rogue planets exist, has an enormous dose of WAG built in.

  30. Owen says:

    I know how much we all like computer models around here, but as an undergraduate project I modeled a solar system from a few thousand different starting points of planets and stars (some binaries included). Over 90% of the starting conditions eventually led to the collision or sling shot expulsion of one or more planets for the system. It was actually very difficult to get a model to result in a stable orbital system, and even the apparent stable ones had a large amount of chaos evident in their orbital paths. Of all the ones I examined closely, none ever occupied the exact same orbital state (ie never crossed the same point in space at the same velocity). I’m glad to see this free planet result, because I really thought it was a mistake in my code that provided the result, now I see that I might have been onto something.

  31. AJStrata says:

    I fully expected these to be exist (not trying to brag – honest). Look at the models for solar system development and one can envision a planet be knocked out of the game by a large collision. Same with the death of stars. And once free, these planetary masses would fly through the interstellar voids sweeping up what little dust and particles are out there.

    We have learned so much we sometimes forget we still know so little that what we know today will be wiped out within a century or less with new discoveries.

    With the internet and the new virtual collaboration, I suspect the pace of discovery to just be ramping up.

  32. Allan M says:

    I can tell from the photo that this isn’t a planet. It’s one of the cricket balls struck by Ian Botham in his innings of 149 not out against Australia at Headingley in 1981. You can’t see it’s red because it’s in shadow, but it’s still travelling at half the speed of light.

  33. Edward says:

    This is not the missing mass in the universe. A few planets per solar system hardly compares to the mass of a star.
    The amount of mass these might represent is miniscule in comparison to the “missing mass” everyone is looking for.

  34. Jeremy says:

    This is actually terrible news.

    If free-floating planets exist and outnumber stars, how do you travel between stars at any high rate of speed without slamming into one?

  35. Kelvin Vaughan says:

    Jimbo says:
    May 20, 2011 at 1:55 am

    Isn’t Earth moving away from the Sun?

    http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn17228-why-is-the-earth-moving-away-from-the-sun.html

    Isn’t our moon moving away also?
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-12311119

    They are not really moving away, they are shrinking. The univese isn’t expanding, every thing in it is shrinking giving the illusion of expansion.

    The universe is a black hole and we are slowly being crushed to atoms.

  36. Robert says:

    This is not the dark matter that we are looking for, even if these lone planets outnumber stars 2 to 1, than it will still only increase the mass of normal matter with only a few tenth of a percent at the most, and that is very optimistic.

    Planets up to 13 times Jupiter mass are still considered to be planets, between 13 and 80 times Jupiter mass its a brown dwarf, above that it is a red dwarf. But although Jupiter mass is 317 times heavier than our own planet, our sun is still a 1000 times heavier than Jupiter.

  37. reason says:

    Kelvin Vaughan says:
    May 20, 2011 at 3:58 am
    MattH says:
    May 19, 2011 at 11:42 pm

    AdderW says:
    May 19, 2011 at 11:32 pm

    No one really likes a floater…

    But the rest of us are flush with excitement!!

    This is a load of crap!

    Would you like to submit a white-paper?

  38. The Earth will be next, just as soon as I complete my Solar Destroyinator!

    See, see, it even runs on solar power. A beautiful combination of “green” and “evil,” or “greevil.” Ironic, really, don’t you think, using solar power to destroy the sun? That’s how evil rolls…

  39. Steve Keohane says:

    Sean says: May 19, 2011 at 11:01 pm

    So that is what dark matter looks like.

    Interesting take, as John of Kent points out as well.

  40. Jeff Alberts says:

    Aren’t they just called Asteroids and Planetoids? I don’t see how this is anything new, or that they’ve really found what they think they have.

  41. Greg, Spokane WA says:

    Owen says:
    May 20, 2011 at 6:20 am

    I know how much we all like computer models around here, but as an undergraduate project I modeled a solar system from a few thousand different starting points of planets and stars …
    ==============
    So how is it possible for this solar system to remain so stable? Luck? Are there some orbital mechanics that we don’t know enough about?

  42. malcolm says:

    Scottish Sceptic says:
    May 20, 2011 at 12:59 am
    I can see it now: some holywood script writer having torn up his “the world is going to end when it gets a little bit warmer (maybe) disaster script” is gleefully starting a new script:

    deep in dark space, travelling eons lost in the Universe a frozen planet of Aliens are heading this way …

    Go and look up the book “When Worlds Collide”, and the 1950s film of it of the same title.
    And when I was a kid, I found a copy of “After Worlds Collide”, where the survivors from Earth were exploring their new home planet and found it full of the deep-frozen remnants of a humanoid alien civilization.

  43. Richard M says:

    I’ve never studied solar system formation so maybe someone can provide more details. But, if one assume a much smaller mass of galactic debris than is present for formation of a sun and associated planets, isn’t it possible for the formation of what I would call a dark (non-solar) system. That is a system of rotating small planets around a mass not big enough to turn into a sun.

    Maybe the first planets we will see are really just the center of small, dark systems. There could be many of them that are not the result of planets escaping a larger solar system.

  44. Robert of Ottawa says:

    Omonolog, I can quite easily imagine that the way stars form need not result in a massive enough conglomeration to ignite the fusion, and it just remain a big ball of dust – like Jupiter. If that were the case, then the mass of the galaxy could be 10-30% more than we thought. Bye-Bye dark matter.

  45. Mr Lynn says:

    Neil Jones says:
    May 19, 2011 at 11:45 pm
    And we’ve been worrying about asteroid strike.

    One of these on a collision course, that really is Flash Gordon territory.

    malcolm says:
    May 20, 2011 at 7:49 am
    Go and look up the book “When Worlds Collide”, and the 1950s film of it of the same title.

    Cf. Max Ehrlich, The Big Eye (Doubleday, 1949): Astronomers discover a rogue planet on a collision course with Earth. Later than When Worlds Collide, but with quite a different ending. No, I won’t tell. ;-)

    /Mr Lynn

  46. Lars P. says:

    Greg, Spokane WA says:
    “So how is it possible for this solar system to remain so stable? Luck? Are there some orbital mechanics that we don’t know enough about?”
    ====
    I would say there are many 2-3 stars system out there. Planetary orbits into such system should be more unstable.
    For our own solar system we do not know how stable was it from the beginning and all that was thrown out during the last 4.5 billion years.
    just my 2 cents

  47. Richard111 says:

    Fascinating! If planets are being ejected wouldn’t the lighter, smaller ones go first?
    Was it one of those rogues created our moon and terra formed our continental crust?

  48. LarryD says:

    Tidal interaction is slowly pumping the moons orbit and slowing the Earth’s rotation. But the moon won’t get outside the Earth’s Hill sphere for billions of years.

  49. crosspatch says:

    Considering everything I have read on the formation of solar systems and the fact that interactions between planets are probably fairly common early in the life of them with planets being ejected from orbits around their stars, it surprises me that it took this long to find them.

    Can you imagine a Jupiter-sized rogue planet flying near (or through!) our solar system!

    Holy Toledo!

  50. Joel Upchurch says:

    It seems to me quite logical that the small nebulae that form into planets would be far more common than the large nebulae that form stars. It is likely that there are 100s or 1000s of dark bodies in the galaxy for every object that is large enough to trigger nuclear fusion and become visible to us.

    It is remarkable that our technology has improved to the point that we can detect any of them.

  51. Mac the Knife says:

    reason says:
    May 20, 2011 at 7:07 am

    Kelvin Vaughan says:
    May 20, 2011 at 3:58 am
    MattH says:
    May 19, 2011 at 11:42 pm

    AdderW says:
    May 19, 2011 at 11:32 pm

    “No one really likes a floater…

    But the rest of us are flush with excitement!!

    This is a load of crap!

    Would you like to submit a white-paper?”

    Yes! To support a search for KlingOns circling Uranus!

    };>) Star Treking – There’s Klingons on the starboard bow, Jim!

  52. Owen says:

    Greg,

    Actually if you look closely our orbits aren’t all that stable either. There is actually a small but measurable chance that Jupiter could perturb Mars’ orbit enough to fling it off into space or worse towards the inner planets. I don’t think we want the Earth playing dodge ball with Mars. The planets might find it fun, but I don’t think we would. There are also some instabilities in Venus’ orbit that could lead to some problems as well. As I recall reading the studies, it didn’t really take that much perturbation to cause some catastrophic effects on our cushy place in orbit.

    Looking at the paths of the planetary orbits, there is significant wobble. I bet we would be hard pressed to find a time where any of the planets duplicated their state vectors from an earlier time. There is some dynamic chaos in all of it.

  53. Wayne Ward (truthsword) says:

    So…. COULD… yeah that is the new science. I remember when discovery was actually finding something, not deciding something COULD be there… I love the words: could, probably, very likely. Great science, maybe.

  54. some shady-looking aliens with a monolith says:

    But although Jupiter mass is 317 times heavier than our own planet, our sun is still a 1000 times heavier than Jupiter.

    We’re working on it!

  55. Greg, Spokane WA says:

    Owen says:
    May 20, 2011 at 9:01 am

    Greg,

    Actually if you look closely our orbits aren’t all that stable either…
    ============
    Sure, but it’s been stable enough for complex life and a technological civilization to develop here. Are there boundry conditions of some sort keeping the orbits mostly in line, despite the wobbles?

    Every simulation I’ve seen discusses the possibility of planets being flung one way or another and the difficulty of creating a stable system and yet… here we are. Why?

  56. hell_is_like_newark says:

    A runaway planet causing an apocalypse was the basis for one of my favorite Saturday morning cartoons as a kid:

    LhAobPugvsk

  57. hell_is_like_newark says:

    Edit… I don’t seem to have the embedding of Youtube links figured out. Direct link:

  58. DRE says:

    Aren’t these just failed stars and shouldn’t there be almost as many of them as their are stars?

  59. AnonyMoose says:

    Planetary formation and solar system theories have for a while been requiring that planets be thrown away from a star. Someone has finally been able to combine observation with the math.

  60. kuhnkat says:

    When your science is based on the wrong theory it rarely predicts or helps you understand new observations. On the other hand, the hypotheses put forward by Electric Universe types explains this quite well. Gravity is not the driver, current is.

  61. Owen says:

    Good living? Or it could be that on a solar system time scale, life has been around for just a blink of an eye.

    I forgot to mention the Mercury problem. My favorite scenario is a perturbation causing Venus to be more elliptical and flinging the relatively lightweight Mercury out of the solar system.

    Even in the models I ran it took tens to hundreds of Jupiter orbits to really fling Mars, perturbing it a little more each time until it reached enough eccentricity to cause problems or gain enough velocity to escape the system.

    My models had problems when planets got too close together as it was only a 5th order approximation on a 32bit (double precision 64bit) so if things moved too fast or forces got too high there was some truncation error resulting in lost energy. (to test it I put two Sol sized stars in orbit at .1 AU from each other and ran the simulation. Within 1000 orbits they were at >2AU from each other, but if I started them at 1 AU they were still within 1.1 AU at 1 million orbits.) Some of the NASA studies I looked at had 12th order approximations on parallel processing data with much high precisions and they had some similar planet flinging results.

  62. Ralph says:

    Pretty obvious, really. I said these would be out there decades ago.

    If matter is condensing around nuclei, then some will condense as vast deposits of matter, and some as small deposits. The latter are these ‘new’ free floaters. So, to make another prediction, these free floaters will not simply benplanets, they will be minature solar systems, complete with subsidiary planets circling a sun that never had enough mass to switch on.

    .

  63. Smokey says:

    This is a wonderful thread with everyone’s speculation. And then there’s this:

    Allan M says:

    “I can tell from the photo that this isn’t a planet. It’s one of the cricket balls struck by Ian Botham in his innings of 149 not out against Australia at Headingley in 1981.”

    That is as Alien a language as American baseball must be to our Australian friends. Klaatu barada nikto…

    Also, there must be plenty of stuff floating around that is too small to detect. Can anyone do a calculation of the energy that would be released in a collision with a one ounce [≈25 gram] pebble with a starship moving at 5,000 miles [or ≈8,000 km] per second?

    Space may not be as empty as we thought, so we’ll just have to figure out another way around that onerous and inconvenient lightspeed limit.

  64. woodNfish says:

    Unbound planets have been a subject of science fiction for years. I find the title to this article amusing for just that reason. It is pure speculation, as is most science fiction.

  65. Owen says:

    Smokey,

    It is bad enough when the shuttle hits a paint flake in orbit. Some of the gouges in the windshields are scary after a mission. I can barely imagine what it would look like on a 0.01c flight. Staying metric, a one gram flake hitting with a 3000 km/s (0.01c) closure velocity would hit with an energy of 4,500,000,000 Joules (neglecting the very small relativistic correction at that speed) or the equivalent of exploding 26.1 cubic meters of natural gas. In other words a very large release of energy that would destroy most spaceships.

  66. Owen says:

    Small correction. 4.5 times 26.1 (over 117) cubic meters of natural gas. The 26.1 figure was for 1X10^9 Joules

  67. Robert says:

    @Owen

    At 3 km/s a object has the same amount of kinetic energy as his own weight in TNT. So a well timed release of six pack could do tremendous amount of damage to a spacecraft like the shuttle.

    Ke = 0.5 * M * V2
    Ke = kinetic energy (Joules)
    M = mass of projectile (kg)
    V = velocity of projectile relative to target (m/s)

    0.5 * 1 kg * 3000 m/s^2 = 4.5 million joules, roughly the same as 1 kg of TNT.
    And in space a 3 km/s speed difference isn’t that much.

  68. Z says:

    Jeremy says:
    May 20, 2011 at 6:59 am

    This is actually terrible news.

    If free-floating planets exist and outnumber stars, how do you travel between stars at any high rate of speed without slamming into one?

    You probably would be able to use a very sensitive gravity detector to see them “coming” (or in actuality, you falling down the well). There wouldn’t be much exteraneous noise out there.

  69. Z says:

    Patrick says:
    May 19, 2011 at 11:19 pm

    @Jenn, actually, English teachers have to be on the cutting edge of painfully awkward gender-neutral neologisms, deconstructionist arguments that prove what is written is thee opposite of what is meant, and the ever accelerating treadmill of euphemisms, or else they shall be branded haters, apostates, and right-wingers.

    I don’t like the word “euphemism” – can’t you use a different one?

  70. Z says:

    Greg, Spokane WA says:
    May 20, 2011 at 7:47 am

    So how is it possible for this solar system to remain so stable? Luck? Are there some orbital mechanics that we don’t know enough about?

    You could try asking the inhabitants of Planet…err…it’s name escapes me – it’s the next one in from Mars.

  71. omnologos says:

    Quick recap:

    1. Is it plausible that the average star expels two Jupiter-sized planets to interstellar space? No. What is doing the work? Something bigger?

    2. Is it plausible that many of the “free floating” Jupiter-sized planets are actually orbiting their stars quite far and slowly, say, like Jupiter and Saturn do? Yes. That’s
    what happens in our system.

    3. Is it plausible that interstellar space contains the remains of many self-collapsed mini-clouds capable to make planets but not stars? Maybe.

    4. Can all of the above be a substitute for “dark matter”? No, it wouldn’t be enough even if the average were 100 Jupiters for each Sun.

    5. Are any of those planets a danger to interstellar navigation? Of course not…their volumes are infinitesimal compared to interstellar space.

  72. With the completely different compositions of each of the moons of Saturn and Jupiter, I would seem that they have caught several of the smaller objects coming into our solar system already.

    The Earth did its share and took a direct hit in order to remake itself and the moon out of the debris.

    Good to know we live on a planet that is a team player.

  73. rbateman says:

    I could see the logic behind proto-stellar discs that were too small to make stars, but free & wandering part feeds into the Niburu stories. If that’s really the case, Giant Stars should be gobbling up passing stars and dwarf stars.

  74. Mike Bromley says:

    Dr. Heinz Doofenschmertz. Founder: Doofenschmertz Evil, Inc. says:
    May 20, 2011 at 7:11 am
    The Earth will be next, just as soon as I complete my Solar Destroyinator!

    See, see, it even runs on solar power. A beautiful combination of “green” and “evil,” or “greevil.” Ironic, really, don’t you think, using solar power to destroy the sun? That’s how evil rolls…

    But Doofenschmertz, you forgot to mention abject voyeurism, a consequence of greevil. In order to see the effects, you must OGLE.

    o·gle/ˈōgəl/
    Noun: A lecherous look.
    Verb: Stare at in a lecherous manner: “he was ogling her breasts”; “men who had turned up to ogle”. More »
    Dictionary.com – Answers.com – Merriam-Webster – The Free Dictionary

  75. DirkH says:

    Owen says:
    May 20, 2011 at 9:01 am
    “Looking at the paths of the planetary orbits, there is significant wobble. I bet we would be hard pressed to find a time where any of the planets duplicated their state vectors from an earlier time. There is some dynamic chaos in all of it.”

    There must be some kind of negative feedback or governing force nudging the planets back into their orbit or otherwise the system couldn’t be stable for millions of years. That would be the obvious conclusion for a systems guy (like me). Just saying “chaotic attractor” doesn’t cut it for me. The theory of gravity can’t solve the three-body problem and we have many more bodies around here.

    So. I didn’t say “electric universe”; but there is something that needs to be answered, and hasn’t been answered by now.

  76. DirkH says:

    omnologos says:
    May 20, 2011 at 2:59 pm
    “4. Can all of the above be a substitute for “dark matter”? No, it wouldn’t be enough even if the average were 100 Jupiters for each Sun.”

    Did they dicover all free wandering objects? No, only some Jupiter-sized biggies. Will we discover loads and loads of smaller ones later, with better instruments? Very likely, i would say. Will there be much much more of the small ones? Very likely as well. So whether these free wanderers explain dark matter or not is an open question ATM.

  77. Owen says:

    DirkH,

    There may be many explanations for many things, but the Japanese moon shot was damaged on launch and didn’t have enough fuel to do the mission. A pretty smart mathematician found an attracting node that would get the spacecraft to the moon and the spacecraft happened to have enough fuel to reach that mathematical anomaly. The proof in the theory this time was the Japanese mission making it to lunar injection orbit. It wasn’t able to do everything planned, but not bad for a “failed” launch.

  78. Lee says:

    what about intergalactic space? very few stars, but maybe very large numbers of planets and planetoids.

    Supposing these planets are only lit by starlight, how bright could they be at most if they are a few light years from a star. Would a star 3 or 4 light years away contribute as much light as all the rest of the stars in the galaxy. Would we ever be able to see these planets except at very close range? Would it be very dark on such a world? How dark is it on the far side of the moon when neither the earth or sun is in the sky?

  79. Owen says:

    Lee,

    I think the best way to detect them would be with a gravitational anomaly. You won’t see them in light, but you might see their gravitational attraction. (As Z suggested earlier.)

  80. wesley bruce says:

    This was predicted as far back as the 1900′s! Some binary stars throw some planets out of their orbit to wander cold and alone among the stars. Besides being a traffic hazard for very fast starships and a good plot device for a doomsday movie they don’t matter much. Someone will rant about the danger of a black planet sweeping though the system and alters all the orbits and planetary rotation rates dooming humanity. Ok It may be not be that bad, techobabble for SF is often over simplistic. A planet would be seen decades ahead of arrival. The the tidal effects would be minute and a 20 cubic mile asteroid on a close pass would have a similar effect. Space stations could be built in a decade to save mankind if necessary. Planets are convenient but no longer essential. We can all breath easy.

  81. Paul Vaughan says:

    The article links (“life on Earth could have originated from a free-floater”) to an even more interesting article:

    Outcast Planets Could Support Life
    http://news.sciencemag.org/sciencenow/2011/02/outcast-planets-could-support-li.html?ref=hphttp://news.sciencemag.org/sciencenow/2011/02/outcast-planets-could-support-li.html?ref=hp

    “By comparing the rate at which heat would be lost through an ice shell with the rate at which heat would be produced by geothermal activity, they calculated that a planet with Earth’s composition of rock and water but three times as big would generate enough heat to maintain a hidden ocean. If the planet had much more water than Earth, say Abbot and Switzer, it would need to be only about a third as big as our planet. “Several kilometers of water ice make an excellent blanket that could be sufficient to support liquid water at its base,” says Switzer.”

  82. beng says:

    Rouge planets. These must be the “bad” planets that couldn’t get along, sassed back to their mothers, didn’t eat their Milky-Way bars, etc.

    I’d think it’d be hard to fling a planet completely out of a system. Hasn’t most of the mass flung out of our system ended up still gravitationally bound out in the Oort Cloud?

    And perhaps a small-mass dust-gas cloud collapsed & formed a Jupiter-mass “planet” as its central “star” straight away? Red dwarfs outnumber all other stars. Would gas-cloud collapses just stop at forming red-dwarfs, but not include smaller-mass brown dwarfs & Jupiter-like planets in their centers?

  83. FunnyGuy says:

    I can’t believe no one has yet mentioned the Death Star, Dyson spheres, or the Pierson’s Puppeteers! : )

  84. Zeke the Sneak says:

    AnonyMoose says:
    May 20, 2011 at 10:01 am
    “Planetary formation and solar system theories have for a while been requiring that planets be thrown away from a star. Someone has finally been able to combine observation with the math.”

    The nebular theory of star formation was originally postulated by Kant in the 1700′s, just a little bit before the space age. You won’t believe how perfectly it has stood up to any test, with just a few adjustments:

    1.Planets migrate out; not enought material where the gas giants are now for them to have formed there
    2. Planets migrate in; the exoplanets must have migrated in and begun rotating in 4 day orbits around their sun
    3. Planets are expelled apparently
    4. Planets are gravitationally captured; they must be because of contrary rotations

    There is nothing that the nebular hypothesis of solar system formation doesn’t either require or allow.

  85. Spector says:

    Even if all planet-sized bodies were formed as ‘spin-offs’ of the formation of their parent stars, all it would take would be a near encounter with another stellar mass to modify the orbits of some of their associated planets to such an extent that they would be unbound by either star. The prevalence of stars with planets detected in highly elliptical orbits (like having Jupiter in an orbit that goes out as far away from the Sun as Saturn and as close in as Mercury) suggests that this may be a rather common galactic hazard.

    Perhaps those calculations on the probability of extra-terrestrial civilizations should include the probable number of undisturbed stellar systems in the galaxy.

  86. kadaka (KD Knoebel) says:

    From omnologos on May 20, 2011 at 2:59 pm:

    5. Are any of those planets a danger to interstellar navigation? Of course not…their volumes are infinitesimal compared to interstellar space.

    Like traveling along at night in a rocket-powered car at 300mph on a smooth and straight highway… then you suddenly find an infinitesimal amount of the space on the highway occupied by a boulder directly ahead… and “popping the chute” is NOT an option.

    Although I’d be more concerned about the planned long drifting phase between originating and destination points. It’d really be a bummer to be woken up from cold sleep, ready to prepare for arrival, and find out automatic computerized course corrections due to the influence of a previously-unknown wandering planet has used up the fuel you needed for deceleration.
    ====

    From beng on May 21, 2011 at 7:18 am:

    Rouge planets. These must be the “bad” planets that couldn’t get along, sassed back to their mothers, didn’t eat their Milky-Way bars, etc.

    This is why they’re reddish, the shame and embarrassment. Well, except for the Moulin subclass, they can get pretty colorful. ;-)

  87. beng says:

    ****
    FunnyGuy says:
    May 21, 2011 at 7:20 am

    I can’t believe no one has yet mentioned the Death Star, Dyson spheres, or the Pierson’s Puppeteers! : )
    ****

    It’s because the Puppeteer home-world cluster is still heading for the Large Magellanic Cloud at near light-speed, fleeing the explosion at the Milky Way’s center (but the Hindmost is still at the Ringworld, along with Louis Wu).

  88. Merovign says:

    I hate the way people try to re-name things, they’re almost always “artless.”

    Would you rather be a lovable “rogue planet” or a “free-floating” planet of questionable means?

  89. Merovign says:

    Re: Velikovsky

    He, Sitchen, and others (more or less astronomically- vs. mythologically-oriented) did postulate rogue planets either joining, striking, or interfering with the orbits of “native” planets. It’s quite an old idea, if you believe Sitchen’s interpretations, the Sumerians thought of it.

    Unfortunately (or naturally), ideas considered “fringe” are not studied seriously, so we have no idea about that as a factual matter, we’re stuck with mythology.

    A quick internet search of descriptions/questions on the subject show that most advocates of the ideas have a sort of weird, summarized, distorted version of the original ideas in mind, so it’s not surprising that no one wants to seriously study the questions.

    I think there was a serious attempt to survey astronomical and historical evidence related to Velikovsky’s collision hypothesis in the 70s, it was inconclusive IIRC.

  90. Jim G says:

    Robert says:
    May 20, 2011 at 7:07 am
    “This is not the dark matter that we are looking for, even if these lone planets outnumber stars 2 to 1, than it will still only increase the mass of normal matter with only a few tenth of a percent at the most, and that is very optimistic.

    Planets up to 13 times Jupiter mass are still considered to be planets, between 13 and 80 times Jupiter mass its a brown dwarf, above that it is a red dwarf. But although Jupiter mass is 317 times heavier than our own planet, our sun is still a 1000 times heavier than Jupiter.”

    Depends upon how many of these there are, plus black holes, plus brown dwarfs. “Dark matter” was invented to explain discrepancies in orbital velocities of the things we CAN see. That does not mean it actually exists in the form presently hypothesized. Every time we have directly observed we have found our theories of how things work is much different from theory. The planets in our solar system and their moons are prime examples.

  91. Spector says:

    RE: Merovign (May 21, 2011 at 4:59 pm)

    I hate the way people try to re-name things, they’re almost always “artless.”

    Perhaps ‘Galactic Planet’ would be a better description as long as they are still in loose orbit around the galaxy. Another term that could be used is ‘Vagrant Planet.’ There is probably a large mass of vagrant planetoids, rocks, and dust circling the Galaxy as well.

    I am not sure the term ‘free-floating’ is appropriate to describe objects that are not in closed planetary orbit around any individual star.

  92. omnologos says:

    I vote for “planetars”.

  93. TonyG says:

    Ignore – following comments

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