There’s an orphan planet roaming our galactic neighborhood.
It’s a globe of gas about the size of Jupiter, astronomers say. And it’s out there by its lonesome, untethered to any star, drifting about 100 light-years from Earth. (In astronomical terms, that’s close.)
Astronomers have spied lonely planets before. But this newest object, seen near the southern constellation Dorado, is the closest to Earth yet found.
Unobscured by starlight, the new planet — it has no name, just a catalog number — provides a perfect opportunity for astronomers to learn about the mysterious class of “substellar objects.” Such rogue bodies might number in the billions in our galaxy alone.
“There could really be a lot of them,” said Christian Veillet, former director of the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope, who studied the lonely planet. “But it’s a big challenge in terms of observing them.”
That’s because these drifting bodies are dark. With no home star, they reflect no starlight, nor do they generate any. But, like an iron pulled from a fire, the youngest of these objects still glow with the heat of their creation.
Wake Up! Our World Is Dying and We’re All in Denial
Had we been in a trance? I wanted to shout, “Wake up! Please wake up! Our old future is gone. Matters are urgent. We have to do something now.”
We live in a culture of denial, especially about the grim reality of climate change. Sure, we want to savor the occasional shrimp cocktail without having to brood about ruined mangroves, but we can’t solve a problem we can’t face.
I don’t like to think about global environmental problems, and neither do you. Yet we can’t deal with problems we can’t face. Isak Dinesen wrote, “All sorrows can be borne if put into a story.” Here’s my story. In the cataclysmic summer of 2010, I experienced what environmentalists call the “‘Oh shit!’ moment.” At that time, the earth was experiencing its warmest decade, its warmest year, and the warmest April, May, and June on record. In 2010, Pakistan hit its record high (129 degrees), as did Russia (111 degrees). For the first time in memory, lightning ignited fires in the peat bogs of Russia, and these fires spread to the wheat fields further south. As doctors from Moscow rode to the rescue of heat and smoke victims, they fainted in their non-air-conditioned ambulances. In July, the heat index in my town, Lincoln, Nebraska, reached 115 degrees for several days in a row. Our planet and all living beings seemed to be gasping for breath.
That same month, I read Bill McKibben’s Eaarth, in which he argues that our familiar Earth has vanished and that we now live on a new planet, Eaarth, with a rapidly changing ecology. He writes that without immediate action, our accustomed ways of life will disappear, not in our grandchildren’s adulthoods, but in the lifetimes of middle-aged people alive today. We don’t have 50 years to save our environment; we have the next decade.
There’s a giant planet right here, hiding in our Solar System. One that nobody has ever seen, even while it is four times larger than Jupiter and has rings and moons orbiting it. At least, that’s what two astrophysicists say.
The name of the planet is Tyche. The scientists are John Matese and Daniel Whitmire, from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. According to them, this colossus is hiding in the Oort Cloud—the asteroid beehive that forms the outer shell of our home system, one light-year in radius. They claim that data already captured by NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer proves its existence. It only needs to be analyzed… over the next two years.
Matese and Whitmire are convinced that Tyche is very real now, however. 15,000 times farther from the Sun than Earth, Tyche would be made mostly of hydrogen and helium. The titanic planet would orbit the Sun with moons and rings around it, bubbling with clouds and storm systems similar to Jupiter. It would even have a mild temperature (-73ºC/-99.4ºF) compared to the asteroids around it, which are almost near absolute zero. Whitmire says that the temperature difference is because a titan of this size takes a long time to cool off after its formation.
Would Tyche be the 9th planet of our Solar System, after Pluto’s demise? If its existence is finally confirmed, its Solar System planet status may not be guaranteed. The reason: Astronomers theorize that Tyche could be a planet born in another star system and captured by ours. But whatever classification it gets, it’s exciting to think that there may be a new neighbor just around the corner. [The Independent]