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Wandering planets found in Milky Way

Astronomers have found a clutch of planets that wander alone through interstellar space. The discovery of the objects, which do not orbit any star, will help scientists better understand how planetary systems form and evolve.

world Updated: May 20, 2011 00:50 IST
Alok Jha

Astronomers have found a clutch of planets that wander alone through interstellar space. The discovery of the objects, which do not orbit any star, will help scientists better understand how planetary systems form and evolve.

The ten free-floating planets are thousands of light years in the direction of the central bulge of the Milky Way, towards the constellation of Sagittarius.

Their masses and compositions are thought to be equivalent to Jupiter and Saturn — mainly hydrogen and helium with trace amounts of heavier elements.

“We expect that they were formed around stars and then, during the later stages of planet formation, they get ejected, primarily due to interactions with other planets,” said Daniel Bennett, an astronomer at the University of Notre Dame, in the United States. His team’s results were published on Wednesday in the journal Nature.

More than 500 exoplanets have been detected in just over a decade of hunting by scientists and the vast majority of these are gravitationally bound to a star, orbiting it in the way the planets in the solar system orbit the Sun.

Free-floating planets have been reported before but only in regions of space where stars are already forming.

The latest discovery shows that free-floating planets exist in large numbers in the emptiest parts of space, with no stars within a distance at least ten times that between the Sun and the Earth. The Guardian