Lonely planets

As previously reported, new studies based on the latest data from the Kepler space telescope indicate that there are probably billions of planets orbiting other stars in our galaxy alone. Now, the first “free-floating” planets have been confirmed, which do not orbit a star, but are freely floating through interstellar space, according to a new survey. They had been predicted, but not detected until now.

Artist's conception. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

These planets, the first ten or so found, are an average distance of 10,000 – 20,000 light-years from Earth and are all approximately the mass of Jupiter. The study suggests that there are many more still to be found, that they at least as common as planets that do orbit stars and that there may be twice as many of these rogue worlds as there are stars in our galaxy. They are thought to be planets that were ejected by their stars during formation, and related current theories suggest that smaller, lower mass planets like Earth should be ejected more often, which would mean an even higher number of free-floating “Earths” than “Jupiters” in our galaxy…

Until recent years we still wondered if there even were other planets in other solar systems, and now the answer seems to be that there are, billions of them of a wide variety, and not only orbiting other stars, but also floating alone in the space between them, and that they may even outnumber the stars themselves…