Astronomers have discovered a "rogue planet," up to seven times the size of Jupiter, floating through space without a parent star.
The object, described as "the most exciting free-floating planet candidate," is approximately 100 light years away and between 50 to 120 million years old.
The planet has been labelled CFBDSIR2149 and is thought to be part of a nearby stream of young stars known as the AB Doradus Moving Group.
– Philippe Delorme, Researcher
Looking for planets around their stars is akin to studying a firefly sitting one centimetre away from a distant, powerful car headlight. This nearby free-floating object offered the opportunity to study the firefly in detail without the dazzling lights of the car messing everything up.
These objects are important, as they can either help us understand more about how planets may be ejected from planetary systems, or how very light objects can arise from the star formation process.
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.
Further work should confirm CFBDSIR2149 as a free-floating planet.
It was identified by researchers using the European Souther Observatory's Very Large Telescope and the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope.
Its comparative proximity, and the absence of a bright star very close to it, has allowed the team to study its atmosphere in great detail.