Fans of 2001: A Space Odyssey will remember Dave Bowman’s last words before disappearing into the alien monolith: “My God! It’s full of stars!” Turns out where there are stars, there are even more planets. Scientists are discovering new planets everywhere, some in stranger places than ever expected.
When the search for planets outside our Solar System (aka: exoplanets) began, even a planet as large as Jupiter was too small to find. Now we’ve found the first exoplanets smaller than Earth. Although they are all too close to their parent star to be habitable, their discovery proves that our technology and techniques are improving. I expect in the next few years scientists will discover so many smaller-than-Earth planets they won’t be able to study all of them. Click here for more on the KOI-961 system and its tiny planets.
New research suggests the planet Saturn isn’t as special as we thought. Scientists have discovered another astronomical body with large rings, but they’re not exactly sure what the rings encircle. It may be a planet, or it may be a brown dwarf. It could even be a small star with rings, which—with all due respect to Saturn—would be way cooler. For more on this Saturn-like object, click here.
Scientists have even discovered planets that really live up to their name. Planet is Greek for wanderer, and a recent survey of the sky found at least ten Jupiter-size planets wandering aimlessly through space. These planets once orbited stars but, for one reason or another, were ejected out of their original orbits. These rogue planets are incredibly hard to find, but if there are ten as big as Jupiter we can assume there are many more, both big and small, hiding in the darkness. Click here for more on rogue planets.
When the day comes that the human race ventures beyond our own Solar System, we’ll have plenty of places to go. The nearest known exoplanets are orbiting Epsilon Eridani, roughly 10.5 light years away, but there are stars even closer and I wouldn’t be surprised if they have planets too. Who knows? A rogue planet might be right on our doorstep waiting to be explored.