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Beyond Earthly Skies

Lone Planet in Interstellar Space

22 Jan 2015, 10:00 UTC
Lone Planet in Interstellar Space
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There appears to be increasing evidence for the existence of isolated planetary-mass objects. These objects are either unbound (i.e. drifting alone in interstellar space) or orbit host stars in widely separated, distant orbits. Recently, Luhman (2014) reported the detection of a nearby brown dwarf with 3 to 10 times the mass of Jupiter and an estimated temperature of roughly 250K (-23°C). Such an object could have formed in-situ as stars do or it could be a planet that got ejected from its natal planetary system.Using a novel technique, Freeman et al. (2014) reported the detection of an isolated planetary-mass object after re-analysis of observational data from the gravitational microlensing event MOA-2011-BLG-274. Gravitational microlensing occurs when the gravitational field of a foreground object (lens) bends and magnifies light from a background object (source). For this to happen, the observer, foreground object and background object must be in near perfect alignment.MOA-2011-BLG-274 was previously reported by Choi et al. (2012). One indication the lens could be a planetary-mass object is the short duration of the gravitational microlensing event. At any given time, the observed amount of magnification and the time of peak magnification vary slightly from point to point on the Earth’s surface. ...

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