A massive rogue planet, 12 times more massive than Jupiter, has been spotted near our solar system. This world, floating alone without a parent star, is home to tremendous electrical storms similar to northern lights on Earth, but far more powerful.
This alien behemoth has a name befitting its massive size – SIMP J01365663+0933473. It floats through space at a distance of 20 light years from Earth – roughly five times as far from our home world as the nearest star other than the Sun.
“This object is right at the boundary between a planet and a brown dwarf, or ‘failed star,’ and is giving us some surprises that can potentially help us understand magnetic processes on both stars and planets,” said Melodie Kao of Arizona State University.
The planet was discovered by astronomers using the Very Large Array network of radio telescopes located west of Socorro, New Mexico. This planet is the first ever discovered using radio telescopes.
The mass of SIMP J01365663+0933473 puts it near the upper limit of what is considered a planet. If the object were significantly larger, astronomers would classify it as a brown dwarf – a ball of gas too large to be a planet, but too small to sustain the nuclear reactions that would make it a star. Brown dwarfs were first theorized in the 1960, but were not seen for the first time until 1995.
Astronomers estimate the planet formed 200 million years ago, within a cluster of young stars. Despite being more than 12 times as massive as Jupiter, its physical size is only 22 percent larger than that massive gas giant. The temperature at the surface of the clouds is measured at 825 degrees Celsius (1500 Fahrenheit), approximately the same as a kiln designed to fire ceramics.
The strongest planetary magnetic field in the solar system is found around Jupiter. But, astronomers estimate the one surrounding SIMP J01365663+0933473 is 200 times as powerful. The relatively weak ones on Earth drive the auroras, which can light up our night skies, but the field on this newly-discovered rogue world is 3.8 million times stronger.
The discovery of this rogue world utilizing radio telescopes could provide researchers with a new means of discovering and analyzing massive worlds beyond our solar system.