Astronomers’ Search For Brown Stars Leads To Discovery Of New Planet

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A group of international astronomers who were searching for brown stars stumbled upon a new planet which stood out because of its red color.

Named PSO J318.5-22, the new born planet was identified because of its distinct and exceptional heat signature by the Pan-STARRS 1 (PS1) wide-field survey telescope located at Haleakala, Maui.

Dr. Eugene Magnier, of the University of Hawaii at Manoa, Institute for Astronomy, and a co-author of the study, described looking for a rare celestial object as akin to searching for a needle in a haystack, thereby making them decide to search for the biggest haystack that exists in Astronomy which is the PS1 itself.

The planet, which Is 12 million years old is 80 light-years away from Earth and weighs only six times that of Jupiter.  Also it has the characteristics akin to those of gas-giant planets revolving young stars.

Team leader Dr. Michael Liu of the Institute for Astronomy at the University of Hawaii at Manoa has this to say:

‘We have never before seen an object free-floating in space that that looks like this. It has all the characteristics of young planets found around other stars, but it is drifting out there all alone.  I had often wondered if such solitary objects exist, and now we know they do.”

During the past years, thousands of new planets have been revealed by indirect methods such as wobbling or dimming of their host stars induced by the planet.

However, only a few planets have been directly viewed, all of which are around young stars which are less than 200 million years of age.

PSO J318.5-22 is one of the lowest-mass free-floating objects known;  possibly the very lowest, but it’s most unique aspect is its same form, shade, and energy output to directly-imaged planets, as reported by the Institute of Astronomy.

According to Dr. Niall Deacon of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Germany and a co-author of the study, PSO J318.5-22 is not orbiting any star, making it easier for astronomers to study since it gives a great view into the inner workings of gas-giant planets like Jupiter shortly after their birth.

They also added that PSO J318.5-22 belongs to a collection of young stars termed as Beta Pictoris, a moving cluster that formed about 12 million years ago.  The eponymous star of the group, the Beta Pictoris, has a young gas-giant planet orbiting around it.  However the teams’ conclusion is that, PSO J318.5-22 is lower in mass than the Beta Pictoris planet and probably shaped in a different way and moves alone in its orbit.

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