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Mystery Planets Drift Through Space

NASA?s Hubble Space Telescope has spotted planet-sized objects wandering through space. What?s unique about them is that they?re loners, with no central star of their own.

The lone planets were discovered when Kailash Sahu, of the Space Telescope Science Institute, and his colleagues monitored 83,000 stars in part of our Galaxy. The planets are too dim and small to be seen directly by Hubble, but could be detected by the way their gravitational fields bent and amplified the light from distant background stars.

Now they want to figure out what these objects are. They could be planets that have been gravitationally torn from their parent stars to form a population of wanderers, but the scientists think there are too many of them for this to be the case. If they do turn out to be ancient unmoored planets, there could be remnants of life remaining on them.

?Hubble?s excellent sharpness allowed us to make this remarkable new type of observation, successfully demonstrating our ability to see very small objects,? says Sahu. ?This holds tremendous potential for further searches for dark, low-mass objects.?

??This result opens new and exciting opportunities for the discovery and study of planet-like objects that formed in the early universe,? says co-researcher Nino Panagia.

The modern word ?planet? comes from the Greek root meaning ?wanderer.? But we now know that the planets in our Solar System are not nomads, since they circle the Sun. These newly-discovered planets are genuine wanderers, however. Did they ever circle suns of their own? Hopefully Hubble will give us more data soon.

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