Gigantic Rogue Planet Found Lurking Outside Our Solar System

Artist's conception of SIMP J01365663+0933473 an object with 12.7 times the mass of Jupiter but a magnetic field 200 times more powerful than Jupiter's. This object is 20 light-years from Earth. Credit Caltech  Chuck Carter NRAO  AUI  NSF

Astronomers have discovered a rogue planet that's nearly too big to be considered a planet - and to top it off, the rogue object is a magnetic powerhouse. This object is 20 light-years from Earth.

The Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array radio telescope has detected emissions, presumably from an aurora, generated by an unusual body 12 times more massive than Jupiter and generating a magnetic field 200 times more intense that is flying through space on its own 20 light years from Earth. Its age meant that instead of a "failed star", they had found a free-floating planet.

"This object is right at the boundary between a planet and a brown dwarf and is giving us some surprises that can potentially help us understand magnetic processes on both stars and planets", said Dr. Melodie Kao, a postdoctoral researcher at Arizona State University.

Though it was first detected in 2016, scientists initially identified it as one of five recently discovered brown dwarfs. It's an absolutely massive alien world that is almost big enough to be classified as a brown dwarf. It is 12 times bigger than Jupiter and has a very odd feature: it does not orbit any star. If you were to stand on it (not a good idea) you'd be subjected to temperatures in excess of 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit. This fits with the object being between a planet and a brown dwarf and could provide valuable information about both groups.

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The huge planet has a surprisingly powerful magnetic field. Kao and colleagues have found evidence of auroras on SIMP J01365663+0933473. The auroras are similar to those on Earth that happen when our magnetic field interacts with solar wind. Scientists theorise that one possibility is having a planet or moon interact with the dwarf's magnetic field. The first brown dwarf was discovered in 1995, although they were first theorized in the 1960s. "This. object is exciting because studying its magnetic dynamo mechanisms can give us new insights on how the same type of mechanisms can operate in planets beyond our solar system", Kao said.

The difference between what constitutes gas giants and brown dwarfs is a matter of serious debate among astronomers, says NRAO.

When astronomers are searching the depths of space for new objects it's typically easier to find undiscovered planets if they're orbiting a star. They have published their research in The Astrophysical Journal.

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