This artist’s impression shows the free-floating planet CFBDSIR2149 (Photo : ESO/L. Calçada/P. Delorme/Nick Risinger)
Remember when you got lost in the supermarket as a kid and literally balled your eyes out? Now imagine being lost in the empty vastness of space, with no parent star to guide you along your orbit. That's exactly what planet CFBDSIR2149 has to go through on a daily basis.
Astronomers used ESO's Very Large Telescope and the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope to find CFBDSIR2149, a free-floating planet with the mass of Jupiter that seems to wander through space without orbiting around a star like most planets we know do. In addition, the planet is actually relatively close to our solar system, only 100 light-years away, and offers scientists a more intimate setting to study a planet and its atmosphere.
"Looking for planets around their stars is akin to studying a firefly sitting one centimetre away from a distant, powerful car headlight," says lead author of the study Philippe Delorme from the Institut de planétologie et d'astrophysique de Grenoble, CNRS/Université Joseph Fourier, France. "This nearby free-floating object offered the opportunity to study the firefly in detail without the dazzling lights of the car messing everything up."
This isn't the first time that a free-floating object has been found in space, but the previous discoveries haven't provided scientists with enough information to label the body as a planet. Instead, they could have been brown dwarfs, or "failed" stars.
"These objects are important, as they can either help us understand more about how planets may be ejected from planetary systems, or how very light objects can arise from the star formation process," says Delorme. "If this little object is a planet that has been ejected from its native system, it conjures up the striking image of orphaned worlds, drifting in the emptiness of space."
The discovery has scientists extremely excited since it could mean that these 'rogue' planets are more numerous than previously thought.