Where Are All These Rogue Planets Coming From?

An artist's illustration of a rogue planet, dark and mysterious. Image Credit: NASA

There’s a population of planets that drifts through space untethered to any stars. They’re called rogue planets or free-floating planets (FFPs.) Some FFPs form as loners, never having enjoyed the company of a star. But most are ejected from solar systems somehow, and there are different ways that can happen.

One researcher set out to try to understand the FFP population and how they came to be.

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Roman Could Finally Tell Us if Primordial Black Holes Exist

An image based on a supercomputer simulation of the cosmological environment where primordial gas undergoes the direct collapse to a black hole. Credit: Aaron Smith/TACC/UT-Austin.

When the Universe erupted into existence with the Big Bang, all of its matter was compressed into a tiny area. Cosmologists theorize that in some regions, subatomic matter may have been so tightly packed that matter collapsed into primordial black holes. If these primordial black holes exist, they’re small, and they could be hiding among the population of free-floating planets.

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Hundreds of Free-Floating Planets Found in the Orion Nebula

This image shows the full survey of the inner Orion Nebula and Trapezium Cluster made using the NIRCam instrument on the NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope. This is the long-wavelength colour composite, which focuses on the gas, dust, and molecules in the region with unprecedented sensitivity in the thermal infrared. Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA / Science leads and image processing: M. McCaughrean, S. Pearson.

It appears that rogue planets – free floating worlds that aren’t gravitationally bound to a parent star – might be more common than we thought. New data from the James Webb Space Telescope have revealed 540 (yes, that’s right) planetary-mass objects in the Orion Nebula and Trapezium Cluster.

If confirmed, this would be by far the largest sample of rogue planets ever discovered.

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Incredible New Images of the Orion Nebula From JWST

This image shows the full survey of the inner Orion Nebula and Trapezium Cluster made using the NIRCam instrument on the NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope. which reveals the nebula, its stars, and many other objects in unprecedented detail in the infrared. Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA / Science leads and image processing: M. McCaughrean, S. Pearson,

The Orion Nebula is one of the brightest star-forming regions in the sky, easily visible in a small telescope. But you’ve never seen anything like these new images from JWST. Researchers have created enormous mosaics of the region in both short and long-wavelength channels. An interactive interface from ESA allows you to zoom in and out of the image and switch between the views. You can see details in the stellar discs and outflows in the short-wavelength version, while the long-wavelength version reveals the network of dust and organic compounds.

The new images also reveal some mind-boggling enigmas.

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A Rogue Earth and Neptune Might Have Been Found in Older Data

An artist's illustration of a rogue planet, dark and mysterious. Image Credit: NASA

Scientists have found what appear to be rogue planets hidden in old survey data. Their results are starting to define the poorly-understood rogue planet population. In the near future, the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope will conduct a search for more free-floating planets, and the team of researchers developed some methods that will aid that search.

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Astronomers Find 70 Planets Without Stars Floating Free in the Milky Way

This artist’s impression shows an example of a rogue planet with the Rho Ophiuchi cloud complex visible in the background. Rogue planets have masses comparable to those of the planets in our Solar System but do not orbit a star, instead roaming freely on their own. Image Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser/S. Guisard

The field of extrasolar planet studies continues to reveal some truly amazing things about our Universe. After decades of having just a handful of exoplanets available for study, astronomers are now working with a total of 4,884 confirmed exoplanets and another 8,288 awaiting confirmation. This number is expected to increase exponentially in the coming years as next-generation missions like the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), Euclid, PLATO, and the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope (RST) reveal tens of thousands more.

In addition to learning a great deal about the types of exoplanets that are out there and what kind of stars are known to give rise to them, astronomers have also made another startling discovery. There is no shortage of exoplanets in our galaxy that don’t have a parent star. Using telescopes from around the world, a team of astronomers recently discovered 70 additional free-floating planets (FFPs), the largest sample of “Rogue Planets” discovered to date, and nearly doubling the number of FFPs available for study.

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