October 15, 2013
A Planet With No Star To Orbit
It has been often said, even before the song was composed, that one is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do. Two can be about as bad, but we don’t have two planets floating idly in space, independent of a star or even other planets to revolve around. Instead, we have PSO J318.5-22, the first planet discovered by scientists to not be orbiting a star.
Michael Liu of the University of Hawaii and his team have been lying low since the government shutdown last week, but that hasn’t stopped them from doing a bit of star sight-seeing of their own. According to Liu, this planet is located about 80 million light years away from Earth and is a whole lot redder than most people would imagine.
No, seriously, the planet is very red. J318.5-22 is 12 million years old, which is incredibly young by our standards. This means that we are only viewing the early stages of the planet’s life.
Throughout their life cycle, planets endure many different forms and appearances from tiny, nearly invisible specs in our telescopes to gigantic Jupiter-sized planets. These different cycles also let us know how old the planet as well as its surrounding celestial cousins are.
Scientists theorize that planets are formed from nebulas, which are hot, gaseous clouds of extremely hot temperatures and ever-changing events. From the Big Bang Theory (NOT the show), we generally assume that waves of heat and energy were pushed in every direction to forge other celestial objects in space. As these waves continuously spread out over long distances, their speed gradually decreased.
Owing to a decrease in speed, these waves of heat and energy began clustering together to make even hotter areas.
Eventually the very core of these individual gas cluster pockets began spinning until they created stars. While stars were formed, other parts of space created planets and other forms of matter. These newly created objects began orbiting each other because of high levels of gravity. Gravity usually intensifies when one object has collided with another to form a super object, complete with an even stronger gravity field. Over the course of millions of years, these areas form solar systems similar to our own Milky Way.
A planet that acts independently of a star likely won’t have biological life along the same lines as humans due to different habitat conditions.
This discovery baffles scientists as, up until now, it was a generally accepted assumption that planets needed a star to orbit.
More to come on this subject in future blogs!
Image Credit: MPIA / V. Ch. Quetz