Lonely planet is lonely, wanders the cosmos without a star to orbit

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Anyone who's gone though grade school science class has at least a rough idea of how planets work: They spin on their axis while orbiting a star. Simple, right? But research shows that not all planets are necessarily part of a solar system.

Scientists with the European Southern Observatory (ESO) and the University of Montreal say they've discovered what they believe is a rogure planet—a planet that meanders through space without orbiting a star. The possible free-floating planet lies around 100 light years away from Earth, and it carries the oh-so-catchy moniker of CFBDSIR2149.

While scientists have found objects they believe might be sunless planets in the past, they couldn't say for certain whether such celestial objects were planets or brown dwarves (which are effectively failed stars).

The researchers say that CFBDSIR2149 is the most conclusive rogue planet candidate to date. According to the Univeristy of Montreal, CFBDSIR2149 "is the first isolated planet – perhaps flung away during its formation – that is not tied by gravity to a star and whose mass, temperature and age meet the relevant criteria" to be considered a planet and not a brown drawf. It's also the "most interesting" such object yet, since it isn't located anywhere near a bright star, making it easier to observe.

According to the researchers, this object is quite massive—it has 4 to 7 times the mass of Jupiter—and at 430 degrees Celsius (about 806 degrees Fahrenheit), it's very warm (the ESO didn't explain why CFBDSIR2149 may be so toasty, though). Also, they say, this maybe-planet is young in astronomical terms, at between 50 and 120 million years of age: CFBDSIR2149 appears to be part of the AB Doradus Moving Group, a cluster of young stars.

How did CFBDSIR2149 come about? The ESO explains:

"Free-floating objects like CFBDSIR2149 are thought to form either as normal planets that have been booted out of their home systems, or as lone objects like the smallest stars or brown dwarfs. In either case these objects are intriguing -- either as planets without stars, or as the tiniest possible objects in a range spanning from the most massive stars to the smallest brown dwarfs."

Fascinating stuff. Head on over to the ESO website to learn more about CFBDSIR2149. And don't forget to make the obligatory forever alone jokes.

Article updated Nov 24, 2012 to include additional information and to clarify a portion of the story.

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This story, "Lonely planet is lonely, wanders the cosmos without a star to orbit" was originally published by TechHive.

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