October 25, 2013
A Planet With No Star To Orbit (Part 2)
Be sure to read Part 1.
Yes, it’s a planet that thinks for itself. Instead of relying on giant stars to round out its daily routine, J318.5-22 floats in space with no family members or shooting stars to pass the time. When I last discussed this planet, it was on the validity of planets needing a star to live.
This fact is only half right, as orbit can only be achieved through the gravitational pull (hence, orbit) of a star or any other celestial object pulling a planet. The other half is not relative, since we’re only thinking of the discovery’s usefulness from the perspective of a human. The human perspective usually involves topics like expansion, colonization and, of course, mining the planet’s mineral resources.
Stars usually pull objects in their general area because they are pretty much the heaviest thing in space. Well, other than black holes. Without an object continuously pulling on another within a solar system, planets can’t really orbit anything. Orbit isn’t a necessity to a star’s orbit, but the planet’s temperature and proximity to the planet are, at least for the human agenda of expansion.
I think that it’s worth noting that because this planet has no star to orbit, it also shouldn’t have a habitable zone that biological life can spring from.
The habitual zone of a solar system is small area in space where water can neither freeze, nor evaporate due to temperature conditions. Because of the habitable zone of Earth (being the third rock from the Sun, we have the right temperature to not boil nor freeze to death) , biological life is allowed to flourish in trillions of varieties life including mammals, insects, reptiles, and many more. But without a habitable zone, the planet can’t possibly harbor life in the abundance that Earth has.
If the planet can harbor life at this point in time, then it’s using a completely different process altogether.
We also can’t actively state what direction the planet is moving in, since it’s not really moving by our observations. It’s possible that we may be seeing the planet float backwards in the opposite direction that we are viewing it in, but this is highly unlikely. Another hurdle worth noticing is that the planet is more than 80 light years away, and humanity still hasn’t mastered light speed travel yet.
On the contrary, yesterday the world assumed that no planet could survive in the drift of space by itself. Tomorrow, aliens could knock on our front door (or atmosphere, so to speak) asking for sugar and the update on last week’s episode of Breaking Bad. Anything is possible with a bit of science.
J318.5-22 is also extremely cool, which contributes to a not so bright shine when looking directly at the planet. Because of this, scientists are very excited as they’ll be able to examine the planet’s surface and atmosphere without worrying about intensive sun glares and blindness from looking through a telescope for too long.
Both Liu and the University of Hawaii are still light years away from studying the planet’s features and environments, but hopefully this discovery will aid future observations in how we determine the usefulness of a planet.
Image Credit: Thinkstock