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.

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Sean

So that is what dark matter looks like.

Jenn Oates

I don’t know why I even try to teach science, as it always changes and the ancillary materials I have are constantly out of date–like the reading I have for them about extra-solar planets (which is actually on the CA Earth Science standards).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

a jones

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

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.

Patrick

@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.

Lee

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.

AdderW

No one really likes a floater…

jorgekafkazar

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.

Jim Masterson

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

Lee

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.

MattH

AdderW says:
May 19, 2011 at 11:32 pm
No one really likes a floater…
But the rest of us are flush with excitement!!

Neil Jones

And we’ve been worrying about asteroid strike.
One of these on a collision course, that really is Flash Gordon territory.

Timebandit

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???

@Timebandit – not by a long shot.

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!

Pompous Git

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…

Lee

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

oldseadog

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

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 …

James of the West

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….

Alan the Brit

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.

John Marshall

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

Jimbo
Adam

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.

Joe Lalonde

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.

Kelvin Vaughan

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!

“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!

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!

Gary

Space 1999. Martin Landau and Barbara Bain were onto something…
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space:_1999

Wondering Aloud

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

Owen

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.

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.

Allan M

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.

Edward

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.

Jeremy

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?

Kelvin Vaughan

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.

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.

reason

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?

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…

Steve Keohane

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.

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.

Greg, Spokane WA

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?

malcolm

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.

Richard M

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.

Robert of Ottawa

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.

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

Lars P.

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

Richard111

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?

LarryD

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.