Added by James Morley on May 23, 2011
While previously considered inconceivable, astronomers have discovered that planets do not seem to be anchored to their planet host, but rather to be wandering the heavens.
The two-year investigation, published in the British science journal Nature, scanned exoplanets in cosmos – planets that exist beyond our own solar system – and in doing to discovered that 10 planets of roughly the same size as Jupiter move so far away from the nearest star that they can be said to “move freely through the Milky Way.”
Although some 500 similar findings exist, some of which dating back to 1995, this is the first time that planets of this size has been found orbiting at such distance from their nearest star.
In comparison to Jupiter, which orbits at five astronomical units (AU) from the the sun – one AU being the standard measurement of the span between Earth and the sun, almost 150 million kilometres, – and Neptune, the outermost planet in our system, at 30 AU, the study found planets at between 10 and 500 AU away from their nearest star.
It was previously believed that a planet is doomed to orbit around its star until the star runs out of fuel.
“The implications of this discovery are profound,” German astronomer Joachim Wambsganss said in a commentary also published by Nature.
“We have a first glimpse of a new population of planetary-mass objects in our galaxy. Now we need to explore their properties, distribution, dynamic states and history.