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Orphaned planets deserve some love

Looking for a gift for that hard-to-buy-for person? How about a planet?

Astronomers are now convinced that there are potentially millions of orphan planets floating free in our galaxy. The closest is a gas giant the size of Jupiter a relatively close 100 light years from Earth.

It is an independent, unattached planet floating aimlessly – well, maybe it has something in mind – through space.

These free-floating planets were confirmed in 2009 by observatories in Hawaii and Chile, and since they have no star of their own to provide reflected light and are comparatively young, they are identified by the residual heat from their creation.

Astronomers are entertaining the possibility there are more of these orphans than stars. Some are captured by solar systems and begin orbiting like regular planets.

But others float quite independently. Some question whether they are technically planets since they don’t orbit a star. Their discovery is recent enough that astronomers haven’t settled on a name for them. “Rogue planets” is one choice; “free-floating planets” another. But we think the technically correct name accorded to them by the International Astronomical Union, “planetary mass object” or “planemo,” just doesn’t cut it.

Astronomers are closer and closer to finding Earth-like planets. Someday they may find an orphan Earth clone, and then with capabilities we don’t yet have and technologies we don’t yet possess, bring it back to our own solar system as a backup. Just in case we screw up the planet we already have. Someone has to claim those orphans.