Scientists with the University of Hawaii’s Institute of Astronomy have discovered a planet that is not orbiting a star.
The free-floating planet has been designated PSO J318.5-22. It was formed 12 million years ago, has six times the mass of Jupiter and is 80 light years from Earth.
It was first observed using the Pan-STARRS 1 (PS1) wide-field survey telescope in Haleakala, Maui and its existence has been confirmed by other observatories across the globe.
“We have never before seen an object free-floating in space that that looks like this. It has all the characteristics of young planets found around other stars, but it is drifting out there all alone,” explained team leader Dr. Michael Liu of the Institute for Astronomy at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. “I had often wondered if such solitary objects exist, and now we know they do.”
Rogue objects like this one have been discovered before, but it wasn’t possible to definitely prove whether they were a planet or a brown dwarf. PSO J318.5-22 is the first to be positively proven to be a rogue planet.
At just 12 million years old, the newly found body is a relatively new planet and could be valuable for scientific study.
“PSO J318.5-22 is not orbiting a star, so it will be much easier for us to study,” study co-author Niall Deacon of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy said. “It is going to provide a wonderful view into the inner workings of gas-giant planets like Jupiter shortly after their birth.”