Humankind may have taken small steps to explore the heavens but our knowledge remains limited. As for planets, discoveries are being made all the time. Wednesday astronomers discovered a new planet. One with no Sun.
NBC News reported Wednesday that astronomers had discovered a planet: Eighty light-years from Earth, there's a world that's just six times more massive than Jupiter, floating all alone without a sun to keep it warm.
An amazing discovery when you consider the amount of star-gazers perusing our heavens at any given time. Add to that the fact that the equipment they use is sophisticated and offers huge magnification compared to such instruments of the past and you may wonder how come they have not spotted this planet before.
We need to remember though that there are millions of planets out there.
The international team of astronomers who discovered the planet have called it PSO J318.5-22. The planet is described as young and exotic. Michael Liu, team leader at the Institute for Astronomy at the University of Hawaii at Manoa issued a press release on the "Lonely Planet".
"We have never before seen an object free-floating in space that looks like this. It has all the characteristics of young planets found around other stars, but it is drifting out there all alone,” explained team leader Dr. Michael Liu of the Institute for Astronomy at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. “I had often wondered if such solitary objects exist, and now we know they do.”
PSO J318.5-22 was spotted using the Pan-STARRS 1 (PS1) wide-field survey telescope on Haleakala, Maui.
In 2009 the Daily Telegraph reported on a new telescope designed to search out planets millions of miles from earth:
"The European Extremely Large Telescope will be the first optical telescope capable of picking out the weak pinpricks of light that are reflected from planets as they orbit stars. Astronomers claim the huge instrument, which will house a mirror the width of five double decker buses placed end to end, will be able to spot rocky Earth-like planets up to 100 million million miles away".
So what is so special about this latest discovery?
Orphaned planets, or as they are also called free-floaters are nothing new. In the past though whether they were planets or failed stars was hard to discern. This time though astronomers are positive that they have discovered a planet.
Jupiter is the largest planet in our Solar System and Mercury the smallest. Thinking of the size of the new planet consider:
"Mercury measures 4879 km along its equator. Just for comparison, Earth is 12,742 km across. So Mercury is only 38% the diameter of Earth. In terms of volume, it’s even less. Mercury has only 0.05 the volume of the Earth. In other words, if the Earth was a hollow shell, you could fit 20 Mercurys inside with room to spare. Jupiter measures: Mass 1.8981 x 1027 kg Volume 1.43128 x 1015 km3 Surface area 6.1419 x 1010 km2 Mean circumference 4.39264 x 105 km. Despite its size, it only has a density of 1.326 g/cm3, which is less than one fourth of Earth’s density. The low density is one way scientists are able to determine that it is made mostly of gases and probably does not have a solid core according to Universe Today".
One word -- Awesome!