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Planet With No Sun Is First Known of Its Kind, Astronomers Say

By Ken Mandel   |   Friday, 11 Oct 2013 05:57 PM

Astronomers have discovered a new planet with no sun that is six times larger than Jupiter and 80 light years from Earth.

The celestial body is drifting without a star to orbit and is believed to be 12 million years old.

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"We have never before seen an object free-floating in space that looks like this," team leader Michael Liu said in a statement. "It has all the characteristics of young planets found around other stars, but it is drifting out there all alone. I had often wondered if such solitary objects exist, and now we know they do."

The planet, known as PSO J318.5-22, could be the first instance of a free-floating planet, though the astronomers don't know how it became separated from its parent star.

PSO was discovered while the astronomers were searching for "brown dwarfs," or failed stars.

Though about a thousand planets have been found outside our solar system in the past decade in many different ways, only a few have been "directly imaged," according to the news release.

"Planets found by direct imaging are incredibly hard to study, since they are right next to their much brighter host stars. PSO J318.5-22 is not orbiting a star so it will be much easier for us to study," Dr. Niall Deacon of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Germany and a co-author of the study, said in the news release.

Founded in 1967, the Institute for Astronomy at the University of Hawaii at Manoa conducts research into galaxies, cosmology, stars, planets, and the sun, according to the web site.

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