NASA has discovered a new planet floating freely around the galaxy proving the theory that in the dark depths of space, lonely planets outnumber stars in the Milky Way. A recent study “provides new clues in this mystery of galactic proportions,” said NASA, after scientists found a free-floating, planetary-mass object within a young star family called the TW Hydrae association. The newly discovered planet, called WISEA 1147 for short, is thought to be up to ten times the size of Jupiter.
“The features on this one screamed out, ‘I’m a young brown dwarf,’ “said Adam Schneider, lead author of the study due to be published in The Astrophysical Journal. But despite its size, tracing the origins of free-floating worlds to see if they are indeed planets or brown dwarfs is tricky — because they are so isolated and lonely. Since the object was discovered to be an affiliate the TW Hydrae group of very young stars, astronomers recognize that it is relatively young, around 10 million years old. Also, because planets need a minimum of 10 million years to develop, and even longer to get kicked out of a solar system, WISEA 1147 is probably a brown dwarf, the study team said.
“With continued monitoring, it may be possible to trace the history of WISEA 1147 to confirm whether or not it formed in isolation,” study author Adam Schneider of the University of Toledo in Ohio, said in a NASA news release. The study team said tracking the origins of free-floating objects and figuring out if they are planets or brown dwarfs is a struggle because they are so isolated.
“We are at the beginning of what will become a very hot field — trying to determine the nature of the free-floating population and how many are planets versus brown dwarfs,” co-author of the study Davy Kickpatrick of NASA’s Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena said. By studying lonely planets, like the WISEA 1147, astronomers hope to learn more about what they’re made out of — as well as weather patterns on isolated worlds. After further evaluation, the astronomers discovered that this object is associated with the TW Hydrae group, which is around 150 light-years from Earth and just approximately 10 million years old.