London: A young “homeless planet,” up to seven times the size of Jupiter and with no gravitational ties, has been spotted by scientists for the very first time.
The lonely planet, called CFBDSIR2149 at the moment, is deemed “homeless” as it does not orbit a star, the Telegraph reported.
It is the first isolated planet of its kind ever to be discovered by scientists, after more than a decade of searching in a process described as “looking for a single needle in amongst thousands of haystacks.”
Up to seven times the size of Jupiter, it is free-floating with no gravitational link and meets the specific criteria of mass, temperature and age to be designated as a “planet.”
Between 50 and 120 millions years old, it has a temperature of approximately 400 degrees Celsius and is believed to be part of a group of around 30 very young stars known as the AB Doradus Moving Group.
The planet was discovered by researchers at the University of Montreal, who consulted with French colleagues and data from the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope and the European Southern Observatory''s Very Large Telescope.
Although scientists have known this type of “homeless” planet existed, they have not been able to observe one until now.
It is believed the isolated planet could have been flung away from other bodies during its formation.
It is hoped it will now allow astronomers a greater understanding of both freefalling planets and exoplanets, which do orbit stars.
Its very existence already supports theories that this type of “homeless” object is more common in space than currently thought.
“Although theorists had established the existence of this type of very cold and young planet, one had never been observed until today,” Etienne Artigau, an astrophysicist at UdeM said.\
“This object was discovered during a scan that covered the equivalent of 1000 times the surface of the full moon.
“We observed hundreds of millions of stars and planets, but we only found one homeless planet in our neighbourhood. Now we will be looking for them amongst an astronomical number of sources further afield. It''s like looking for a single needle in amongst thousands of haystacks,” Artigau said.
The team of astronomers have finally been able to study it due to its comparative proximity, and the absence of a bright star very close to it.
First Published: Wednesday, November 14, 2012, 18:25