Despite the hundreds of billions of stars that make up our galaxy astronomers still struggle to find the mysterious rogue worlds. Many of them are found in sets of planets like the solar system but not all of them orbit a star. A recent announcement by astronomer Bill Mroz reveals that the smallest rogue world discovered so far is somewhere between Mars and Earth. According to the best theories rogue planets should exist.
Uncertainty in results of a study on rogue planets
Astronomers recently announced the discovery of 70 ‘rogue’ planets in the Milky Way. These planets do not revolve around any star and are known as ‘free-floating.’ This study aimed to identify these planets using two decades of data from NASA’s Kepler spacecraft and other telescopes. It’s still uncertain how many of these worlds there are and how many of them have the same size.
The findings may have implications for the origin of these planets. One theory states that they formed by collapsing in a gas cloud while another claims they were kicked out of their solar system. The new data will need to be confirmed by more telescopes including the Extremely Large Telescope in Chile. The researchers hope to collect additional data from the Milky Way and the findings may lead to new discoveries.
Even though there is great uncertainty surrounding the details of rogue planets astronomers believe these worlds are present. A new telescope has been launched to look for them. It may be possible to spot them through gravitational microlensing a technique based on Einstein’s theory of general relativity. This technique magnifies distant stars and helps astronomers identify rogue planets.
Lack of official definition for rogue planets
A recent study found a new rogue planet zipping through the Milky Way on its own. Its mass is comparable to Earth’s but it has no sun. It has a darker sky and more stars than our own. The study was flawed however and there are still many questions to be answered. Until a definitive definition is established researchers will continue to look for new candidates.
The IAU defines a planet as a gravity-molded ball that can crush atoms. So a planet cannot be lumpy nor can it be massive enough to crush atoms. However a planet with an object mass below one percent of its star’s mass could still be a planet. This is not an exhaustive list but it does illustrate the point that the definition for a planet has yet to catch up to reality.
Another common definition for a rogue planet is a free-floating world. It is not associated with any star and orbits another. These planets may have been ejected from their solar system or formed at an early stage of the Universe. In fact astronomers believe that there may be as many as 100000 such rogue planets in our Milky Way galaxy.
Struggle to image rogue planets in visible light
It is difficult to image rogue planets in visible-light but scientists recently succeeded in detecting faint heat signatures from these objects. These objects are thought to be rogue planets that remain hot and glowing for millions of years. The new study was published in Nature Astronomy. Scientists now hope to use the new data to investigate planet formation. A new telescope under construction in Chile is expected to help solve the problem.
The ESO recently released a video demonstrating the power of modern telescopes in studying rogue planets. The next step in this project is the development of a new telescope the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope which will be launched in 2027. Once complete it will be able to build a census of rogue planets. The new telescope will be about ten times more sensitive than existing ground-based telescopes.
The Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope is slated to launch in the mid-2020s. It will provide breathtaking panoramic images with unprecedented detail. The telescope is named after Nancy Grace Roman the first female executive at NASA. It will peer into the heart of the Milky Way in unobstructed night skies. The mission’s new imaging capabilities could enable scientists to detect hundreds of rogue planets.
Efforts to find rogue planets
New research indicates that there may be a second exoplanet in the Milky Way. While the Milky Way contains hundreds of billions of stars it also contains a lot more planets than our solar system. Some of the planets are grouped together in sets like our solar system but not every planet orbits a star. Recently astronomer Bill Mroz announced that he had found the smallest known rogue planet between Earth and Mars. According to current theories these rogue planets should exist.
A rogue planet is similar in mass to Jupiter and is often found in the Ophiuchus and Upper Scorpius constellations. This constellation is also known as the thirteenth constellation and the ancient Babylonians hated the number thirteen. However despite their name these planets do exist and they may contain valuable clues about how they formed. Efforts to find rogue planets in the Milky Way are likely to yield some of the answers we’ve been seeking.
Scientists believe that there could be billions of rogue planets in the Milky Way. While they are very faint and hard to detect with our current telescopes they may hold clues to the formation of planets in their parent systems. For example rogue planets may have formed from the collapse of a small gas cloud or been kicked out of their parent system.
Efforts to find exoplanets
Recent observations of the Milky Way’s distant gas clouds have revealed the presence of rogue planets. Astronomers believe there are potentially billions of them but their existence is still uncertain. These planets form in collapsing gas clouds and break off from their parent stellar systems. Scientists will be able to detect these rogue planets using data collected by the Gaia satellite.
Young planets are particularly difficult to detect because they are warm due to their formation and gravitational contraction. These planets are typically in a region where stars are forming but small planets are much harder to detect. Until recently finding these planets proved to be a difficult task. Fortunately researchers have discovered a new technique for detecting these planets called ‘lensing’.
This technique uses two different light filters to identify rogue planets. The rogue planet could be a swarm of tiny uninhabited worlds that swerved out of the star’s orbit. The discovery of rogue planets in the Milky Way has implications for models of planet formation and for future missions. The OGLE observations only used a single light filter but observing two filters could allow the scientists to disentangle the source star and make better measurements of stellar properties which would help determine the mass of a free-floating planet.
While detecting rogue planets in the Milky Way has been elusive for decades recent discoveries have made the process more accurate and revealing. In the past researchers had guessed that the universe is full of exoplanets but no mission has studied them in detail. However new data have helped scientists understand what makes them unique. It may even be possible to detect rogue planets thousands of light-years away.
Nancy Grace Roman space telescope
New studies have found that our Milky Way contains a few rogue planets. The brightest of these objects probably have masses above or below 13 Jupiter masses. The European Space Agency has studied the Gaia satellite to identify rogue planets. In the future more detailed surveys of this area of space may be possible. But for now the biggest question is ‘how many of these planets are in our galaxy?’
Researchers previously discovered that the Milky Way is home to hundreds of billions of stars including a few known rogue planets. However not all of them orbit a star like Earth does. In fact the smallest rogue planet was discovered just last year. It is located between Mars and Earth. This research has raised the question ‘How many rogue planets are in our galaxy?’
Astronomers hope to find more rogue planets with ESO’s Extremely Large Telescope (ELT) which is due to launch at the end of the decade. The ELT is expected to gather its first light by 2027. It is expected to have a 39-meter primary mirror and an advanced suite of coronographs spectrometers and adaptive optics to better observe the stars and the galaxy’s exoplanets. Once ELT and NASA’s NGRST are launched exoplanet surveys will become possible.