Orphan Planet Found: Astronomers Discover Starless Object 100 Light-Years From Earth [VIDEO]

By Danny Choy on November 15, 2012 11:40 AM EST

Astronomers have released a report yesterday announcing the discovery of a possible "rogue" planet traveling alone at just 100 light-years away from Earth.

Dubbed CFBDSIR2149, the free-floating object, according to scientists, is likely a gas planet that is four to seven times the size of Jupiter that once belonged to a distant solar system. What's more, given its current close proximity to Earth, scientists are studying whether starless worlds may actually be a more common occurance than they once thought.

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According to Philippe Delorme, study leader at the Institute of Planetology and Astrophysics of Grenoble, France, "If this little object is a planet that has been ejected from its native system, it conjures up the striking image of orphaned worlds, drifting in the emptiness of space."

Philippe Delorme and his team first discovered CFBDSIR2149 when its infrared signature was caught by the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope, located at Kamuela, Hawaii. Then, the properties of CFBDSIR2149 were further examined at the Very Large Telescope at the European Southern Observatory of Chile.

Gathering their data, scientists believe that CFBDSIR2149 is likely a part of a stream of young stars known as the AB Doradus moving group, the closest star stream to our solar system. What's more, if further analysis can confirm the CFBDSIR2149's origin to the star stream, then scientists can confirm that the rogue planet is no older than 120 million years old, when the AB Doradus star stream first started to form together. Finally, scientists also estimate the temperature on CFBDSIR2149 is approximately 806 degrees Fahrenheit.

However, what else could CFBDSIR2149 be if scientists determine that it is not an orphan planet after all? Other scientists believe that CFBDSIR2149 might also be a rare brown dwarf - an object that is larger than a planet but too small to trigger the internal nuclear fusion reactions necessary to be a real star.

Speaking with SPACE.com, Delorme explains, "We need new observations to confirm that this object belongs to the AB Doradus moving group. With a good distance measurement and a more accurate proper motion, we will be able to increase (or decrease) the probability that it is indeed a planet."

The discovery of CFBDSIR214 opens up multiple avenues of research for scientists. Not too long ago, the discovery of an orphan planet was rare and shocking. However, advanced telescopes and new methods in research have revealed so many orphan planets that scientists are beginning to suggest that starless planets outnumber orbiting planets, making them the rule rather than the exception.

That said, the ejection of a planet as enormous as CFBDSIR2149 is rare. Says Delorme, "We now know that such massive planets are rare and that Neptunes or Earth-mass planets are much more common. We also know that massive objects are more difficult to eject [from solar systems] than light ones. If you follow the rationale, you deduce that ejected exo-Neptunes and ejected exo-Earths should be much more common than objects like CFBDSIR2149."

Finally, CFBDSIR2149's close promixity may be the most exciting of all. Future telescopes will be capable of learning a great deal about CFBDSIR2149. In addition, scientists also point out that the imaging quality of CFBDSIR2149 will not be compromised by distractions such as an overwhelming glare from of a host star (there isn't one).

Delorme said, "This object is a really easy-to-study prototype of the 'normal' giant planets we hope to discover and study with the upcoming generation of direct-imaging instruments. It will help to improve our forecast of these objects' luminosity and hence help us discover them -and, once discovered, it will help us understand the physics of their atmospheres."

Take a look at the animated impression of the free-floating CFBDSIR2149 below:

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