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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Newborn Stars in the Orion Nebula Prevent Other Stars from Forming

The Orion Nebula, one of the most studied objects in the sky. Image: NASA
The Orion Nebula, one of the most studied objects in the sky. Image: NASA

The Orion Nebula is one of the most observed and photographed objects in the night sky. At a distance of 1350 light years away, it’s the closest active star-forming region to Earth.

This diffuse nebula is also known as M42, and has been studied intensely by astronomers for many years. From it, astronomers have learned a lot about star formation, planetary system formation, and other bedrock topics in astronomy and astrophysics. Now a new discovery has been made which goes against the grain of established theory: stellar winds from newly-formed massive stars may prevent other stars from forming in their vicinity. They also play a much larger role in star formation, and in galaxy evolution, than previously thought.

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