CLOSE

Meet the Starless Planet That Floats Alone

Say hello to what may just be the loneliest planet in the universe. CFBDSIR2149—as researchers unromantically refer to this orphan world—doesn't have a traditional solar system to call its own, and instead floats through the galaxy untethered to a larger sun-like body. According to a new report in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics, its existence is making astrophysicists rethink what they knew about starless planets, which may be more common than previously believed. Here's what you should know about this parent-less object:

What's the planet like?

It's titanic—about four to seven times as massive as Jupiter. The free-floating object "cruises unbound through space relatively close to Earth" at roughly 130 light-years away, says Mike Wall at Space.com. Astronomers caught their first glimpse of CFBDSIR2149 ("2149" for short) while hunting for distant brown dwarf stars, or "failed stars" that never quite become massive enough to kick-start thermonuclear reactions at their cores. It's estimated that the lonely 2149 is between 50 and 120 million years old with a surface temperature of 752 degrees Fahrenheit (relatively cool compared to real stars). What's more: It may be like a lost child following a group of unfamiliar companions.

What does that mean?

The object was pinpointed moving through space among a small group of young stars called the AB Doradus Moving Group star cluster, says Irene Klotz at Discovery News. 2149 stood out among these stars because of its relatively cool temperature. Although it isn't orbiting any of them, there's a 90 percent probability that the oddball planet is "indeed associated with the group," says Space.com's Wall, since all the stars appear to be roughly the same age as it. There's still a small chance that 2149 is an unusually small brown dwarf star, but that means it would have to be billions of years older than its present company. That's why astronomers are pretty sure it's a young planet and not an old, failed star.

How did it end up orphaned?

Scientists aren't sure. Either it formed away from a parent star or was booted out from its original system by gravitational forces. For example, 2149 may have formed originally as part of a solar system, says Michael D. Lemonick at TIME, before it was "sling-shotted out in a close encounter with another planet."

Are there many others like it?

Not at all. A few orphan worlds were discovered in star-forming regions in the constellation Orion, but "this is the first time we have found one outside the cocoon of star-forming regions in the field," says astrophysicist Étienne Artigau at the University of Montreal, who co-discovered the planet. Now scientists are hoping to study the relatively close anomaly more intently — astronomers have already detected the signature of methane and water vapor in 2149's atmosphere. A separate study from 2011 found that if floating planets do in fact support life, they may act as "stepping stones" to spread life around the galaxy.

Sources: Discovery NewsNew ScientistSpace.comTIME

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
science
What Pop Culture Gets Wrong About Dissociative Identity Disorder
iStock
iStock

From the characters in Fight Club to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, popular culture is filled with "split" personalities. These dramatic figures might be entertaining, but they're rarely (if ever) scientifically accurate, SciShow Psych's Hank Green explains in the channel's latest video. Most representations contribute to a collective misunderstanding of dissociative identity disorder, or DID, which was once known as multiple personality disorder.

Experts often disagree about DID's diagnostic criteria, what causes it, and in some cases, whether it exists at all. Many, however, agree that people with DID don't have multiple figures living inside their heads, all clamoring to take over their body at a moment's notice. Those with DID do have fragmented personalities, which can cause lapses of memory, psychological distress, and impaired daily function, among other side effects.

Learn more about DID (and what the media gets wrong about mental illness) by watching the video below.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
History
Scientists Reveal Long-Hidden Text in Alexander Hamilton Letter
iStock
iStock

Age, deterioration, and water damage are just a few of the reasons historians can be short on information that was once readily available on paper. Sometimes, it’s simply a case of missing pages. Other times, researchers can see “lost” text right under their noses.

One example: a letter written by Alexander Hamilton to his future wife, Elizabeth Schuyler, on September 6, 1780. On the surface, it looked very much like a rant about a Revolutionary War skirmish in Camden, South Carolina. But Hamilton scholars were excited by the 14 lines of writing in the first paragraph that had been crossed out. If they could be read, they might reveal some new dimension to one of the better-known Founding Fathers.

Using the practice of multispectral imaging—sometimes called hyperspectral imaging—conservationists at the Library of Congress were recently able to shine a new light on what someone had attempted to scrub out. In multispectral imaging, different wavelengths of light are “bounced” off the paper to reveal (or hide) different ink pigments. By examining a document through these different wavelengths, investigators can tune in to faded or obscured handwriting and make it visible to the naked eye.

A hyperspectral image of Alexander Hamilton's handwriting
Hyperspectral imaging of Hamilton's handwriting, from being obscured (top) to isolated and revealed (bottom).
Library of Congress

The text revealed a more emotional and romantic side to Hamilton, who had used the lines to woo Elizabeth. Technicians uncovered most of what he had written, with words in brackets still obscured and inferred:

Do you know my sensations when I see the
sweet characters from your hand? Yes you do,
by comparing [them] with your [own]
for my Betsey [loves] me and is [acquainted]
with all the joys of fondness. [Would] you
[exchange] them my dear for any other worthy
blessings? Is there any thing you would put
in competition[,] with one glowing [kiss] of
[unreadable], anticipate the delights we [unreadable]
in the unrestrained intercourses of wedded love,
and bet your heart joins mine in [fervent]
[wishes] to heaven that [all obstacles] and [interruptions]
May [be] speedily [removed].

Hamilton and Elizabeth Schuyler married on December 14, 1780. So why did Hamilton try and hide such romantic words during or after their courtship? He probably didn’t. Historians believe that his son, John Church Hamilton, crossed them out before publishing the letter as a part of a book of his father’s correspondence. He may have considered the passage a little too sexy for mass consumption.

[h/t Library of Congress]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios