By: Pari Heidari, 'Larry King Now'
NASA has discovered a "free-floating planetary-mass object," using intelligence from its Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) and the Two Micron All Sky Survey (2MASS). The object, which NASA has named "WISEA 1147," is a Brown dwarf and is thought to have 5 to 10 times the mass of Jupiter, our galaxy's biggest planet. Free-floating worlds are objects that are unbound by any orbit and float “freely” miles away from their assumed host star (NASA believes our solar system could be filled with them). Brown dwarfs are objects that are too big to be classified as planets, but too small to pass for stars.
Scientists are projecting that WISEA 1147 is "only" 10 million years old - making it relatively young in space-terms. In fact, the age of the object is one of the indicators that it is in fact a brown dwarf. According to NASA, a planet requires a minimum of 10 million years to form, not to mention the time it would need to outgrow a star system. A Brown dwarf will form the same way as a star but will not grow large enough in size to be able to fuse atoms at it's core (which is what makes stars shine).
NASA's hope is that researching free-floating planetary masses will increase their understanding of weather patterns.
Davy Kirkpatrick, astronomer at NASA's Infrared Processing and Analysis Center has high hopes as they begin to examine free-floaters and Brown dwarfs. "We are at the beginning of what will become a hot field – trying to determine the nature of the free-floating population and how many are planets versus brown dwarfs," he says.
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