Astronomers have discovered a rogue planet the size of Mars floating through the Milky Way.
THE new exoplanet, the smallest free agent planet astronomers have found, is too small to be observed directly, and was detected with the help of a microlensing event.
Przemek Mroz, a postdoctoral scholar at the California Institute of Technology, explained in a statement: “If a massive object – a star or a planet – passes between an Earth-based observer and a distant source star, its gravity may deflect and focus light from the source.
“The observer will measure a short brightening of the source star.”
He said the chances of observing microlensing are extremely slim because three objects — source, lens, and observer — must be nearly perfectly aligned.
“If we observed only one source star, we would have to wait almost a million years to see the source being microlensed.”
To up the odds of locating microlensing events, astronomers rely on data collected in nighly studies.
Astronomers estimate rogue worlds were initially formed around stars inside protoplanetary disks, but were ejected by gravitational interactions with other young planets.
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