This Baby Rogue Planet Is Wandering the Universe All by Itself

This planet, six times bigger than Jupiter, is sailing through space just 80 light-years away

An artist’s idea of what PSO J318.5-22 may look like
An artist’s idea of what PSO J318.5-22 may look like MPIA/V. Ch. Quetz

Birthed from the protoplanetary disk, most planets spend their days orbiting their parent star, growing old together as they loop around their galaxy’s core. A newly discovered planet named PSO J318.5-22 (which we’ve decided to call Flapjack, because why not?) has no parent. It has no planetary siblings. The planet is adrift, alone.

Estimated to be just 12 million year old, Flapjack is, relatively, just a baby, a planetary toddler off on an adventure to explore the universe. It’s a rogue planet, and it’s sailing through space some 80 light-years away. It is, says Alan Boyle for NBC, about six times the size of Jupiter.

It’s also, say the researchers in a release, the best example we have yet of a rogue planet. Scientists have known that some big objects tend to travel alone, rather than orbiting as part of a system. But they weren’t sure whether these celestial rogues were teeny, faint stars or wandering planets. Recently, though, astronomers have been finding planets all over the universe. Comparing Flapjack to these confirmed planets gave the scientists what they needed to call it a planet.

Rogue planets, says Universe Today, may be planets that formed normally, as part of a solar system, but then were kicked out to wander alone. That’s what they think happened to Flapjack. But there’s also the possibility that rogue planets could be birthed in interstellar space, growing from cold clouds of dust and gas. If that’s the case, Flapjack, says Universe Today, could have been born free.

The red dot in the middle is a telescope’s view of PSO J318.5-22. Photo: N. Metcalfe / Pan-STARRS 1 Science Consortium

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