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Location: UFOUpDatesList.Com > 2011 > May > May 21

Kiwi-Led Team Find Lonely Planets

From: Geoff Blackmore <geoff_184.nul>
Date: Fri, 20 May 2011 16:24:05 +1200
Archived: Sat, 21 May 2011 07:23:52 -0400
Subject: Kiwi-Led Team Find Lonely Planets

Source: Stuff.Co.Nz



Kiwi-Led Team Find Lonely Planets
By Kiran Chug

Lonely Jupiter-sized planets, floating freely through our galaxy
instead of orbiting stars, have been discovered by a Kiwi-led
international team of scientists.

The discovery has been heralded in an international journal as
having "profound" implications and opening a new chapter in the
history of the Milky Way.

Orphan planets have been the subject of science fiction,
appearing in Star Wars and Doctor Who, but although theorists
have speculated on their existence, this is the first time their
existence has been demonstrated.

The findings, published today in the international scientific
journal Nature, were made using software developed by Massey
University computer scientist and astrophysicist Ian Bond.

He led the team that discovered 10 giant free-floating gas
planets believed not to be orbiting stars. "They're giant
planets in our galaxy, around the size of Jupiter and somewhere
between us and those distant background stars."

The planets are believed to be about two-thirds of the way to
the centre of the galaxy, which is about 25,000 light years

"It's a big deal. It's like finding a needle in a haystack - the
sense of discovery is hugely exciting," Dr Bond said.

The discovery raised the possibility that smaller, Earth-sized
free-floating planets are yet to be detected and that such
planets could support life.

If the planets could be viewed by the naked eye, Dr Bond said
they would be pitch black, as they emitted no light.

The discovery has won plaudits from the international scientific
community. Joachim Wambsganss, of Heidelberg University's
Astronomy Research Institute, said the implications were
profound and more research was needed.

Dr Bond and the team behind the discovery believe the orphan
planets could have been ejected from a solar system because of
close gravitational encounters with other planets or stars.

"Some might go into another orbit; some might get ejected out."

Alternatively, they could have grown from collapsing balls of
gas and dust, but without the mass to ignite their nuclear fuel
and produce their own starlight.

The discovery team involved researchers from Massey, Auckland,
Canterbury and Victoria universities, as well as from Japan and
the United States.

The group is part of the Moa - microlensing observations in
astrophysics - study, which uses a microlensing telescope at Mt
John Observatory at Lake Tekapo.

Gravitational microlensing is an astronomical phenomenon that
allows the study of planetary bodies that emit little or no
light. It refers to the bending of light that happens when a
distant star gets aligned with a massive foreground object.

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