Glowing Rogue Planet Discovered Near Our Solar System

James Marshall
August 8, 2018

Astronomers have detected a possible "rogue" planetary-mass object with a surprisingly powerful magnetic field travelling through space unaccompanied by any parent star.

This is the first radio-telescope detection and first measurement of the magnetic field of such an object beyond our solar system.

The object is about 20 light years away from Earth, farther than the Alpha Centauri star system that is about 4 light years away. If you were to stand on it (not a good idea) you'd be subjected to temperatures in excess of 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit.

It's not attached to any star and is 12 times the size of Jupiter, which has a radius of more than 69,000 kilometres.

A brown dwarf is an object too large to be a planet, but isn't big enough to sustain the nuclear fusion of hydrogen in its core that is typical of stars.

"This particular object is exciting because studying its magnetic dynamo mechanisms can give us new insights on how the same type of mechanisms can operate in extrasolar planets - planets beyond our Solar System", Kao said. The first brown dwarf was discovered in 1995, although they were first theorized in the 1960s.

The newly identified planet was originally detected in 2016 in New Mexico, but was considered at that time to be a brown dwarf.

The difference between a gas giant and a brown dwarf has been the subject of debate among astronomers.

Astronomers say there have been only a few rogue planets discovered to date.

Kao and her team are surprised that the object isn't orbiting a star, a typical behavior of planets.

Simultaneously, Dr. Kao's team observed SIMP0136 in a new study at even higher radio frequencies and confirmed that its magnetic field was even stronger than first measured - more than 200 times stronger than Jupiter's. They also have strong auroras, similar to the northern lights that can be seen on Earth.

This rogue planet, and some brown dwarves are known to have auroras of their own despite lacking solar winds. At its size, it's right between the size of a planet and a failed star, so scientists will need to study it further to determine exactly what it is.

Caltech's Gregg Hallinan said that researching SIMP "presents huge challenges to our understanding of the dynamo mechanism that produces the magnetic fields in brown dwarfs and exoplanets and helps drive the auroras we see".

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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