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Researchers find thousands of “homeless” planets in our galaxy

by CIFAR Feb 28 / 12

Advisory Council member Roger Blandford and a team of scientists at the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology (KIPAC) released a study that there may be as many as 100,000 times more “homeless” planets wandering through the Milky Way than stars.

Rather than revolving around a star, these nomadic planets can potentially generate their own heat through radioactive decay and tectonic activity. And, if the atmosphere on these planets is thick enough, the trapped heat can potentially result in bacterial life. This discovery may change the current theories of planet formation and the origin of life.

Researchers first came across the idea of nomadic planets last year when about a dozen of these bodies were detected using a technique that detects when a star’s light is dimmed by the gravity of a passing planet. Taking into account the known gravitational pull of the Milky Way, the amount of matter available to make celestial objects, and how matter might divide itself into objects of varying sizes, led scientists to their new assessment of how many of these bodies exist in our galaxy.

Though more precise knowledge of these planets will have to wait for the next generation of telescopes set to operate in the next decade, this study opens the door to exciting new avenues of space research and brings scientists one step closer to knowing if there is life on other planets.