Homeless Planet Found Wandering Near Earth’s Solar System

By Breanna Draxler | November 17, 2012 8:00 am

planet CFBDSIR2149

An artist’s rendition of planet CFBDSIR2149. The planet’s faint
glow looks blue through an infrared telescope. In visible
light the cold planet would actually appear red.

It’s cold and young and massive. And they call it the wanderer.

Astronomers recently discovered a new planet, named CFBDSIR2149, that is relatively close to our solar system. It is also the first convincing evidence of an accepted but yet unsubstantiated theory of roaming planets.

Astronomers have theorized for the last decade about the presence of wandering planets that do not orbit stars, and they’ve found a number of objects that could potentially fit the bill. But without the ability to accurately date these objects, scientists couldn’t positively identify them as planets. They could just as easily have been failed stars called brown dwarfs.

Luckily for astronomers, CFBDSIR2149 has certain qualities that made identification possible. The wandering planet acts as a groupie to the AB Doradus Moving Group—a band of 30 young stars that travels through space together. These stars are all the same age, so astronomers were able to deduce the age of the planet traveling with them. At 50 to 120 million years old, CFBDSIR2149 is still pretty young.

For astronomers, another handy quality of the cosmic nomad’s starlessness is the resulting lack of light reflected from its atmosphere. This allows astronomers to study the planet’s atmosphere in detail using infrared telescopes, something that would not be possible with star-orbiting planets. Finding CFBDSIR2149 and identifying it as a planet was a coup in and of itself, and astronomers believe that observing this wandering planet will also help them better understand its more rooted counterparts.

Image courtesy of L. Calçada, P. Delorme, Nick Risinger, and R. Saito, European Southern Observatory/VVV Consortium

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space
  • Mike

    First of all, you’re calling this the closest planetary body to our solar system, but you don’t even cite its distance. Second, it is definitely not the closest planetary body since it is roughly 130 light years away. Poor reporting job.

  • http://ixian.ca Evan

    What you have failed to mention is that the “planet” is approximately 100 light years distant. Only an astronomer like myself would consider that “Near Earth’s solar system”. 100 light years is about 946,052,840,000,000 kilometres. Not exactly next door in human scale terms.

  • Ross W Sargent

    Homeless Planet Found Wandering Near Earth’s Solar System – so the headline says. Near Earth’s Solar System? 100 light years is near? Perhaps compared to intergalactic distances but to call it “near” the Solar System on a popular science site is misleading. I doubt that Breanna Draxler is responsible – more likely a sub-editor.

    Maybe it’s that kind of thing that made Phil Plait fly the coop.

  • Tony Mach

    Since when is a distance of about 100 light-years “wandering near our Solar System”? What an awful title for this post, this makes it sound as if the planet nearly buzzed our Solar System…

    And BTW, bonus points for omitting the distance.

  • SFN

    I agree, that title is pure sensationalist crap. Go take a science course.

  • Peryite

    I have to agree with you, Tony, when I saw ‘near’ I was wondering if it was going to eventually latch on a little beyond Pluto. That would have been something. Still, this is an amazing discovery that holds a lot of potential for science and science fiction.

  • http://thailandrocks.com chiangraiken

    Where does the article mention ’100 light years’ ? Anyhoo, there could be a bazillion of these guys out there, and those plus ‘brown dwarfs’ might account for so-called ‘dark matter’ or whatever it is which creates the gravity which can’t be accounted for.

  • Bill

    It should be called planet x.

  • Carmen

    What keeps it from being called an asteroid? Is it the size?

  • George

    As Columbo used to say, just one more thing…

    The “closest planetary body to our solar system”, at least at the moment, would seem to be the rocky planet recently discovered orbiting Alpha Centarui.

    The news shouldn’t have been that obscure: Discovery’s own Bad Astronomy noted it on October 16, 2012: “Astronomers have announced they have found a planet orbiting one of the stars making up the most famous star in the sky: Alpha Centauri, the closest star system to our own! At 4.3 light years distant, this is far and away the closest exoplanet known…”

    I suppose this author might have meant that this discovery is the closest *roaming* planetary body to our solar system….

  • craigg

    sounds like niburu sure the atmosphere isn’t made of gold or gold dust?

  • Whitey Snott

    Sounds and even looks like the planet from the movie”Melancholia”

  • Kalon Meekins

    100 lightyears isn’t close at all. I read in other articles that this nomad was at least 13x jupiters so its not that small either. If something that big was to graze our system I’m almost certain it would have threw our system off balance.

  • Joanne

    The title makes it sound like Planet-X/Nibiru pseudoscientist bait

  • Britoven

    What a bullshit story. Folks,if they can see this planet,its a LOT closer than 100 light years away!! LOL Yes,folks,they think you’re that stupid. LOL Oh well—-More disinformation from NASA.
    Why does anyone believe anything these people say?

  • K. Mapson

    I presume this homeless planet will be begging other planets for spare change?

  • http://yahoonews tony meneses

    Well in my personal opinion i think in terms of space and time between the stars i guess yes they are correct near our solar system/they never said will entered our solar system because if it had or will they u better pray for any god our planet and life in it would be toasted even before the planet fully entered our solar system due to gravity. The asteroid belt would be off balance sending asteroids towards our planet killing us. We would be a doomed civilisation… or we would be knocked out of the solar system into the coldness of space and still we would be doomed no sunlight no sunset ever again.. dead… thats my opinion

  • Josh

    100 lightyears near our solar system is ‘relatively’ close. Also, chances are, there are MANY more rogue planets flying around us that we cant see.

  • Durpa

    Please correct this to state that this is the closest *known* *rogue* planetary body and remove that ridiculous bit about it being on near our solar system.

  • Larry M

    100 light years is close when you take into consideration that there is no object of greater mass for it to pair with, the difficulty of identifying, and the fact that 100 light years is just a spec of dust in comparison to the known distances in this universe. The fact that it travels with nothing providing directional guidance coupled with it’s massive size is alarming albeit very slight. An impact is not likely at those distances, but the fact that it is within the 100 light year time/distance range means they are likely abundant enough to cause problems somewhere. A planet of greater mass than our little ones at our systems edge could wreck havoc on the orbits of other planets, and even disrupt magnetic fields. Sure I’m talking long shots but a bullet zipping over my head missing me by 6ft maybe a terrible shot, but it’s still very close.

  • Art Woosley

    Tell me when to duck!

  • http://hillscloud.wordpress.com David Carlson

    This world may have formed in a stable vortex between two stars (essentially in an L4 or L5 Lagrangian point) within the AB Doradus Moving Group if it’s smaller than the minimum Jeans mass of .007 solar masses necessary for unassisted gravitational collapse.

  • Kyle B

    Considering that the Andromeda galaxy is 2.5 million light years from earth, I would say, yes, it is very close. It’s fractional distance to our “nearest neighbor” is 100/2500000, or 0.004 %. It’s practically knocking at the door. Space is big, think in relative terms more than absolute distances.

  • Kelly

    I agrre. pluto is only 4 to 7 light HOURS away. Just to put it in perspective. I do agree it is an amazing discovery though.

  • Zac

    So the ancients claimed there was a giant planet that would enter and exit our universe and years back NASA claimed there was no evidence of this being possible, always funny how our ancient astronomers with not even 1/3 of the technology we have still had more knowledge on astrological movements then us. Lol not only do we need to be aware of large asteroids now but randomly drifting planets and failed suns. It still makes me wonder how they had more awareness on this occurrences then we, mighty peculi

  • Matthew

    In galatic and universal terms 100 light years is pretty close…

  • rick

    In a universe that is on the scale of a billion light years across 100 light years is relatively close by.

  • solcelle

    Very good reading material. Greetings Denmark :)

  • http://discovermagazine.com Bonjour

    Considering the scale of the universe, 100 lightyears is absolutely nothing.

  • floodmouse

    @ Peryite: Speaking of science fiction, it is still amazing to me how often science fiction seems to predict later discoveries. If you have time, go back and take a look at the old “Flash Gordon” serials. I believe they came out around 1940. One of the plot threads involves a wandering planet that is not tethered to a star. A lot of the stuff in the old serials will look kind of silly and dated (especially the way the space vehicles look so much like cars from the 1950s), but they’re still pretty entertaining. :)

  • Breanna Draxler

    @Mike: This was right from the researcher’s own words: “This object is also the closest planetary mass to our solar system that has ever been found,” said Étienne Artigau, an astrophysicist at UdeM. But looking around, I think that “relatively close” might be a better way to phrase it, given other recent discoveries. I’ve made a change.

  • David C. R.

    @Mike …’TO THE SOLAR SYSTEM’… Not ‘to Earth,’ or ‘IN the solar system’… Nearest PLANET SIZED object. You gotta read all the words before you start criticizing. Otherwise you look ridiculous. The only valid point you made there was the failure to give us a distance.

  • amphiox

    I suppose this author might have meant that this discovery is the closest *roaming* planetary body to our solar system….

    Of course that is what the author meant. It’s right in the title. “Homeless”, ie NOT bound to a star, NOT in a solar system of its own.

    100ly really is astoundingly close for an observation such as this. We detect planets in solar systems by observing the doppler shift on the parent stars, or noticing transits. Or, very rarely, directly imaging them by the light they reflect from their stars (only a handful of these have been seen). ALL of these methods DEPEND on the planet being associated with a star in a solar system of some kind.

    But these homeless planets have no stars. You can’t detect them by transit or doppler, and there is no nearby star to reflect light from for us to image directly. These homeless planets are dark and virtually invisible, almost impossible to see. The only way we’ve managed to see this one is because it is very young and still glowing from the heat of its formation.

    For objects as hard to observe as these, 100ly is STUPENDOUSLY close.

  • http://- Jari-poek

    Homeless planet? As a homeless person, a human being, on this earth, I find it quite hard to sympathize for this planet’s anguish.

  • Brenda

    I don’t see how they can say the age just because it is a “groupie” to the wandering stars they site. Just because it is hanging out with that crowd doesn’t mean anything regarding it’s age.

  • BBMolly

    The wandering planet’s threat to earth should not be compared to a bullet missing one’s head by 6 feet. It’s more like an errant pitch in Yankee Stadium missing one’s head when one lives in San Francisco.

  • Daniel

    If you like the way the age of this wandering planet is estimated (although I can’t think of a better way given its so recent discovery) you will really enjoy how the age of our own sun and solar system is estimated.

  • Melissa

    OK all my intellectual friends…..While I have to agree with the half rate reporting and the understating of what is considered “close” to our own solar system, I would love to over look this and pull a collective sigh of “cooolllllll”from each of you….. like we did when our minds weren’t jaded and over educated. When you think of this in an innocent way it is awesome…The wanderers are almost touchable in a 100 light year nearness. That means when I look up at the sky day or night I now can think that even our universe has hobo’s…:)

  • http://cmee@fpcmid.org rolo3

    Whatever, this ‘Wandering planet is not close to us at all, and If it was in a group shouldn’t it have collided with another one of these homeless planets by now? I just don’t think tings are adding up here. Another thing, what the heck is up with the distance being omitted? who did you hire for an editor, Mr. Bean or someone? Even though the rest of this site is pretty good I wouldn’t rate this as a top 100 winner. The closeness of the Andromeda could also be put into speculation as close if you think this is meandering planet system is close. Why isn’t there any info about the other 30 planets as well.

  • Rob N

    amphiox: “100ly really is astoundingly close for an observation such as this. ”

    Not really. There’s 851 exosolar planets currently detected & verified. 337 are within 50 light years, 28 are within 10 ly. In fact, 100 light years is pretty much an average distance. The consensus now is that most stars have planets, and if planets also exist in open space, one would expect there to be a large number of them within 10 or 15 light years. So this is not really “Near Earth’s Solar System” in general populace terminology or in planet-hunter terminology. Just because this type of planet is hard to detect doesn’t make it more valid to call the first find “near”. In fact, you’d think it would be necessary to look even closer to find something that didn’t have its own light source.

    If somebody studies galaxies, yes, they would consider this to be ‘astoundingly’ close. But we’re not looking for planets in other galaxies, so that point is moot.

    Brenda – the assumption is that the planet formed at the same time as the stars and traveled with them. It is possible it fell into their gravity well long after it was formed, so you may end up being right. But the infrared analysis I think is the clincher that it’s not a brown dwarf.

  • Matt J.

    All this arguing over whether or not 100 light years is close! I hope the editors and authors learn the real lesson here: simply saying ‘close’ without giving at least a rough number was a very bad move.

    The same goes for calling it ‘cold’. 400 degrees Kelvin would be ‘cool’, but 400 Celsius is NOT. The solar system has several planets well below that temperature. 40K would be ‘cold’.

    A science writers writing a science article should not be so afraid of using numbers. They are very necessary to make things clear and definite.

  • Guest

    i think that it is near beacuse it said on news 12 that it is posable that a blackhole is near

  • anon

    that’s creepy; i was just reading a cthulhu story that had to do with a wandering planet and the rise of r’lyeh…

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