'Homeless' Planet Seen Adrift in Deep Space

It's cold, young, and doesn't orbit a star
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 17, 2012 2:28 PM CST
An artist's rendering of CFBDSIR2149.   (L. Calcada, P. Delorme, Nick Risinger, R. Saito, European Southern Observatory/VVV Consortium)

(Newser) – Astronomers have identified a "homeless" planet for the first time and given it a rather un-catchy label: CFBDSIR2149. This young and very cold planet is drifting about 100 light-years away with a group of roughly 30 stars, but isn't orbiting any of them—which makes its blue light stand out well against the black backdrop of the universe. Astronomers have spotted other homeless-planet candidates but weren't sure if they were really brown dwarfs, the smallest kind of star, the Smithsonian's Surprising Science blog reports.

Theorists have speculated that such drifting planets exist and may even be as common as ordinary stars—but seeing them is the problem. "Looking for planets around their stars is akin to studying a firefly sitting one centimeter away from a distant, powerful car headlight," says the lead author in the study. "This nearby free-floating object offered the opportunity to study the firefly in detail without the dazzling lights of the car messing everything up." (Read more planet stories.)

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