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dark planets

Post by falkor » Thu May 19, 2011 5:03 pm

DR EMILY BALDWIN, ASTRONOMY NOW, Posted: 19 May 2011

Drifting through space far from any star, a new class of free-floating Jupiter-sized planets have been discovered that could have been ejected from growing planetary systems.
Image Ten Jupiter-like planets have been detected
The findings, which were independently confirmed by a second microlensing survey group, the Optical Gravitational Lensing Experiment (OGLE), suggest that there could be up to twice as many free-floating planets as stars, equating to hundreds of billions of lone planets in our Milky Way Galaxy.

“Our survey is like a population census,” says David Bennett, a NASA and National Science Foundation-funded member of the team from the University of Notre Dame in South Bend. “We sampled a portion of the Galaxy, and based on these data, can estimate overall numbers in the Galaxy.”

Brown dwarf stars some three times the mass of Jupiter have already been observed within star-forming clusters, but the newly detected objects resemble planets much more than they do brown dwarfs. The astronomers think that these planets were likely ejected from the chaotic whirlpool of early solar system formation, perhaps flung out of the system after a close encounter with another planet or star, and left to wander through the Galaxy alone.

“If free-floating planets formed like stars, then we would have expected to see only one or two of them in our survey instead of 10,” says Bennett. “Our results suggest that planetary systems often become unstable, with planets being kicked out from their places of birth.”

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