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May 18, 2011 5:03 PM   Subscribe

The discovery indicates there are many more free-floating Jupiter-mass planets that can't be seen. The team estimates there are about twice as many of them as stars. In addition, these worlds are thought to be at least as common as planets that orbit stars. This would add up to hundreds of billions of lone planets in our Milky Way galaxy alone.
posted by anigbrowl (52 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
Planets or

Deathstars!
posted by Shit Parade at 5:07 PM on May 18, 2011


But have they cleared their orbital neighborhood of debris?
posted by chimaera at 5:07 PM on May 18, 2011 [7 favorites]


Lost in time and lost in space...and meaning.
posted by The Whelk at 5:08 PM on May 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


Space 1999
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 5:09 PM on May 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yet perhaps this disaster was written in the stars, because a rogue planet called Melancholia is heading for Earth on a collision course.

Ha! This post complements the next one quite well.
posted by Rhaomi at 5:12 PM on May 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


Every last one of them choc full of space vampires.
posted by Artw at 5:14 PM on May 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Mongo?
posted by GuyZero at 5:15 PM on May 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Considering some of the things I wrote about in my short career contributing fiction to kuro5hin.org, the frequency with which they are being reflected in reality is almost terrifying.
posted by localroger at 5:15 PM on May 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


Mogo doesn't socialize.
posted by The Whelk at 5:21 PM on May 18, 2011 [5 favorites]


Both Le Petit Prince and Doctor Who seem somehow more plausible to me now.
posted by maryr at 5:24 PM on May 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


I SMELL A CROSS OVER EVENT
posted by The Whelk at 5:25 PM on May 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


Wanderer? Orphan? Free-floating?
Or .... badass?

Rogue Planet doesn't give a shit.
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:28 PM on May 18, 2011 [8 favorites]


Damn it, H.I., ain't I got enough to contend with?
posted by Trurl at 5:38 PM on May 18, 2011


They remembered to blow the dust off the lens, right?
posted by Sys Rq at 5:41 PM on May 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


The fact that I wasn't the only person who thought "Mondas" upon reading this reminds me how much I love this place.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 5:41 PM on May 18, 2011


seanmpuckett:Wanderer? Orphan? Free-floating?
Or .... badass?


In Passages in the Void I called them dark worlds. But they ended up being pretty badass.
posted by localroger at 5:42 PM on May 18, 2011


Niburu!
posted by Jehan at 5:43 PM on May 18, 2011


Now I want to go interstellar exploring, more than ever!

*sigh*
posted by aubilenon at 6:02 PM on May 18, 2011


This, btw, doesn't come close to explaining dark matter, if anyone is wondering.

These planets are 1000 times smaller than the sun, so we're talking about adding a fraction of a percentage to the total amount of 'normal' matter in the universe, even if there are twice as many planets as stars. Even if there are 1000 times as many planets as stars, it wouldn't be enough to account for all the dark matter.
posted by empath at 6:07 PM on May 18, 2011 [6 favorites]


The fact that I wasn't the only person who thought "Mondas" upon reading this reminds me how much I love this place.

The fact that a post like this results in responses that are no more than a stream of childish babbling reminds me how much I'm coming to dislike this place.
posted by HiroProtagonist at 6:07 PM on May 18, 2011 [9 favorites]


Great, more rocks.
posted by TwelveTwo at 6:07 PM on May 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


This, btw, doesn't come close to explaining dark matter, if anyone is wondering.

You missed a chance at a Macho joke.
posted by eriko at 6:12 PM on May 18, 2011


Is this the dark matter they keep talking about?
posted by fzx101 at 6:48 PM on May 18, 2011


ha...should have read all of the comments. 100,000,000,000 x The mass of Jupiter < Dark Matter. Wow I feel small now.
posted by fzx101 at 6:55 PM on May 18, 2011


Wow I feel small now.

Like you're an insignificant dot on an insignificant dot, with a sign point to it saying "you are here"?
posted by hippybear at 7:22 PM on May 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


the worst part is there isn't even a sign.
posted by The Whelk at 7:24 PM on May 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


Watch out for the cubic one named Htrae...
posted by djrock3k at 7:25 PM on May 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Some people have speculated that life on rogue planets might not be impossible, or even necessarily rare. If life can exist in the atmospheres of gas giants, rogue gas giants are as good as any, because large gas giants keep themselves hot through compression for billions of years. Even if gas giants cannot harbor life, their systems of moons can have significant tidal heating, and large rogue gas giants might stay hot enough from compressional heating to give off significant amounts of infrared radiation.
posted by Mitrovarr at 7:28 PM on May 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


"the terrible black planet...which rolls aimlessly in the stupefying darkness."
posted by jamjam at 7:28 PM on May 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


More planets mean more numbers for the drake equation! Yeah!

What's the chance of life developing without energy from a star?
posted by mccarty.tim at 8:14 PM on May 18, 2011


Mitrovarr: we can do better than tidal forces for a power source: http://arxiv.org/abs/arXiv:1103.5086 Don't take this too seriously, but it is hilarious (at least, it's physics-hilarious, which is graded on a fairly generous humor curve).

Also, I don't think the gravitational collapse will heat a gas giant for very long - millions of years at best I thought. The Earth's core is heated by radioactive decay which is insufficient to keep the surface at liquid water temperatures, and I'd guess it'd be worse for the gas giants. That said, there appears to be some anomalous heat source in Neptune that may be related to gravitational collapse somehow. It's still a chilly place.
posted by physicsmatt at 8:15 PM on May 18, 2011


In the long term, these planets could be useful for interstellar colonization, acting as stepping stones between stars. For an interstellar civilization, the lack of a sun may not be considered a problem.

Of course there's some technical details to work out first, but I'll leave that to the engineers.
posted by happyroach at 8:53 PM on May 18, 2011


I'd like to thank empath for making the first worthwhile post in this thread. And for answering a question in the back of my mind.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:15 PM on May 18, 2011


the worst part is there isn't even a sign.

Oh, there's a sign... It's just very very very tiny.
posted by hippybear at 9:24 PM on May 18, 2011


physicsmatt: Also, I don't think the gravitational collapse will heat a gas giant for very long - millions of years at best I thought.

It should be longer than that, considering that Jupiter, Saturn, and Neptune all still radiate substantially more heat than they receive from the sun. Although, a rogue planet that forms in interstellar space might form from colder material and might cool off faster without any source of outside heat at all.

I suspect (but don't know enough physics and math to back up) that a gas giant larger than Jupiter would be substantially hotter and probably also hold the heat longer.

The Earth's core is heated by radioactive decay which is insufficient to keep the surface at liquid water temperatures, and I'd guess it'd be worse for the gas giants.

It's hard to say how rogue planets will fare in the radioactive department. The content of the interstellar nebula will vary greatly for each gas giant, and mass sorting will undoubtedly vary greatly for planets that form in interstellar space.
posted by Mitrovarr at 9:29 PM on May 18, 2011


Help! I'm stuck in a Rhaomi loop!
posted by nzero at 9:57 PM on May 18, 2011


"Our survey is like a population census," said David Bennett, a NASA and National Science Foundation-funded co-author of the study from the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind. "We sampled a portion of the galaxy, and based on these data, can estimate overall numbers in the galaxy."
Except that censuses (by definition) aren't samples, they (at least try) to catalog the entire population, instead of extrapolating from a sample. Poor choice to try to explain what they did...
posted by BungaDunga at 9:58 PM on May 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Maybe they're the natural evolution of a technological society ?
posted by Poet_Lariat at 10:01 PM on May 18, 2011


physicsmatt: we can do better than tidal forces for a power source: http://arxiv.org/abs/arXiv:1103.5086 Don't take this too seriously, but it is hilarious (at least, it's physics-hilarious, which is graded on a fairly generous humor curve).

Hah, and I thought regular Astrobiology was speculative. This paper is speculative on a whole new level.

Really, the idea seems unlikely on so many levels. Probably my greatest concern is that if dark matter particles are so willing to interact with matter that they can have major astrophysical impacts beyond gravitation, they should have been detected by now. We should be turning them up all the time - after all, we detect neutrinos, and those would never be able to heat a planet unless it was in the direct path of a supernova.

Also, if planets are sucking them up in large enough numbers that they're heating them up, wouldn't stars be sucking up far more of them? You'd think we'd notice problems with the mass-luminosity relationship of stars in dark-matter-heavy areas - either the mass is going to sit in the core of the star and give it extra mass without exerting pressure, or it's going to annihilate (as this paper suggests) and heat up the star somewhat. Plus, you'd think it'd be occasionally annihilating in open space, or in nebulae, with some observable effect.

Of course I'm probably taking this more seriously than intended, but it looks like someone out there was actually writing this seriously, so I don't know.
posted by Mitrovarr at 10:18 PM on May 18, 2011


I'm confused. I thought one of the fundamental mysteries of cosmology is that you can't just sample one portion of the sky and apply the distribution witnessed elsewhere, i.e. the universe is just deeply lumpy. Did I miss something?
posted by effugas at 1:32 AM on May 19, 2011


Regular matter is the stuffing and dark matter is the turkey, which leaves us with a burning question: who’s coming to dinner?
posted by sneakums at 2:38 AM on May 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


The Bad Astronomer has a nice post about this.
posted by mahershalal at 3:01 AM on May 19, 2011


Mitrovarr, the reason I say that the planets can't get sizable heating from collapse is that the Sun would be powered by gravitational collapse for only a few million years. The expected million year age of the Sun was a big problem before fusion was discovered; as it was known that the Earth had to be older if evolution was correct; collapse just isn't a long term enough power source. But let's run the numbers (which I've stolen from wikipedia):

The gravitational binding energy of the Earth is U = 3 GM^2/5R = 2 10^32 J. The power from the Sun is 1.7 10^17 W; this obviously is roughly the right order of magnitude to keep us from freezing. So just from collapse, we could heat the Earth for 10^15 seconds, or about 30 million years. This is probably a huge overestimation, because it assumes the heat comes out uniformly. Really, you'd start very hot in the early collapse stage, waste most of your energy supply then, and then be freezing for the rest of the time.

As for the dark matter heat source, yes, it's insane. But the authors are experts on dark matter (doing this most for a lark, admittedly), and they have avoided the known constraints on dark matter interactions. The trick is that they assume the planet is sitting in a region of high dark matter density, which can increase the annihilation inside the planet to sufficient levels without having been seen in direct or indirect detection yet. But yeah, don't take it too seriously.
posted by physicsmatt at 5:59 AM on May 19, 2011


This makes sense. If stars form spontaneously (i.e. gravitational accretion), then failed stars should form all over the place, too.
posted by Eideteker at 6:28 AM on May 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


ObSF1: The Wanderer.

ObSF2: When Worlds Collide.
posted by Chrysostom at 8:25 AM on May 19, 2011


Eideteker writes "This makes sense. If stars form spontaneously (i.e. gravitational accretion), then failed stars should form all over the place, too."

The exciting planets in the article are theorized to have been ejected from solar systems rather than being failed stars.
posted by Mitheral at 8:49 AM on May 19, 2011


effugas, the Universe is actually extremely homogeneous and isotropic on the scale of billions of light years. It's "lumpy" on the scale of clusters of galaxies; and you wouldn't want to apply observations from the clusters to the voids between them or vice versa. This search was in our Galaxy, so the smoothness or lumpiness of the Universe doesn't play a big role. As long as we restrict ourselves to parts of the Galaxy that have a similar evolutionary history, we can apply what we see in one small region of the Galaxy to the entire volume that is similar to it. This is a perfectly acceptable step, as long as there's nothing special about the region you performed your search on. It's possible you accidentally sampled a special region with more (or fewer) planets than normal, but extremely unlikely, and we would have to update our extrapolations if it turns out we mistakenly picked a region that turns out to have good reason to be uniquely overdense with planets.

Basically, we're extrapolating assuming that the Universe isn't intentionally fucking with us - which is probably a good scientific assumption, regardless of the number of times it seems like the laws of nature are out to get you personally.
posted by physicsmatt at 8:52 AM on May 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


More from Bad Astronomy: Are we in danger from a rogue planet?
posted by brundlefly at 9:52 AM on May 19, 2011


a post like this results in responses that are no more than a stream of childish babbling

Every single thread is like that. Welcome to the New Metafilter.
posted by banshee at 11:11 AM on May 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: from the clusters to the voids.
posted by herbplarfegan at 11:35 AM on May 19, 2011


Regular matter is the stuffing and dark matter is the turkey, which leaves us with a burning question: who’s coming to dinner?

Galactus?
posted by FatherDagon at 1:08 PM on May 19, 2011


The fact that a post like this results in responses that are no more than a stream of childish babbling reminds me how much I'm coming to dislike this place.


TRanslation: I'm so over Metafilter. Oh look ... Shiny!
posted by Poet_Lariat at 12:26 PM on May 21, 2011


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