Four homeless 'rogue planets' of Earth-mass found near centre of galaxy

  • Led by Iain McDonald of the University of Manchester, UK, the study used data obtained in 2016 during the K2 mission phase of NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope.
The study team found 27 short-duration candidate microlensing signals that varied over timescales of between an hour and 10 days.(Nasa)
The study team found 27 short-duration candidate microlensing signals that varied over timescales of between an hour and 10 days.(Nasa)
Published on Jul 07, 2021 12:03 PM IST
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Byhindustantimes.com | Written by Susmita Pakrasi, Hindustan Times, New Delhi

A new research has located four planets of similar mass to Earth and without any host star. The discovery has been published in 'Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society'. These so-called rogue planets are free-floating, possibly after having been ejected from their star systems by the gravitational tug of heavier planets, the study said.

Led by Iain McDonald of the University of Manchester, UK, the study used data obtained in 2016 during the K2 mission phase of NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope. During this two-month campaign, Kepler monitored a crowded field of millions of stars near the center of our Galaxy every 30 minutes in order to find rare gravitational microlensing events.

What did the researchers find?

The study team found 27 short-duration candidate microlensing signals that varied over timescales of between an hour and 10 days. Many of these had been previously seen in data obtained simultaneously from the ground. However, the four shortest events are new discoveries that are consistent with planets of similar masses to Earth.

Despite being ejected out of their solar systems, previous research has suggested that rogue planets could hang onto nearly half their moons during the ejection process and potentially maintain conditions for life for billions of years.

How was the discovery made?

The discovery was made using a technique called microlensing, which describes how the light from a background star can be temporarily magnified by the presence of other stars in the foreground. It produces a short burst in brightness that can last anywhere from a few hours to a few days.

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