Space is the place, or so they say. But as we discover more and more about the cosmos that swirl around us in a never-ending dance of gas and dust, light and darkness, birth and death, what kind of place space is, exactly, becomes harder and harder to define.
Currently muddying the waters? CFBDSIR2149.
See, although most of us have accepted the Copernican assertion that the Earth revolves around the Sun, it has not really changed our assessment of space as a relatively orderly place. To wit: the Universe contains galaxies, which contain stars, around which orbit planets, around which orbit moons. Things aren’t always this tidy, of course, and there’s some question about what might walk the surfaces of those planets – but that’s the general idea.
Recent discoveries, however, have called this neat model into question. CFBDSIR2149, a rogue planet roughly four to seven times the size of Jupiter, was recently discovered wandering the cosmos about 100 light-years from our solar system according to the BBC.
Don’t let the name fool you: this little guy is actually on quite an impressive galactic odyssey. Perhaps formed in a solar system and then kicked to the curb, or perhaps conceived of the same celestial dust, which might have made a star had there been more of it, CFBDSIR2149’s significance lies in how close it is to our own neighborhood.
Observers have been able to confirm that its movements sync up with a group of about 30 other objects moving through the area called the AB Doradus Group. This has enabled them to date its age and make further guesses about its composition, like mass and temperature.
Unfortunately, they haven’t yet been able to confirm if it formed as a star or planet. The latter, along with its proximity to Earth, could imply that free-floating planets are a lot more common than scientists at one time thought.
If it is a lone planet, “it conjures up the striking image of orphaned worlds, drifting in the emptiness of space," said study co-author Philippe Delorme of the Institute of Planetology and Astrophysics of Grenoble.
Time to cue Eric Carmen’s “All By Myself”? I think so.
Photo credit: ESO/L. Calçada/P. Delorme/R. Saito/VVV Consortium