This week certainly held loads of thrills for space enthusiasts. And that is without counting the astrophysicists at NASA and worldwide. A few days ago, NASA announced to the excitement of millions that the moon contains frozen water on its sunlit surface. This sparked the age-old discussion about the possibility of life outside of Earth. Now, it seems the discovery of a rogue planet further grabbed attention.
As reported by NASA correspondents, an entire planet slightly smaller than Earth had gone unnoticed until now. Add that to our definition of the universe. After all, that literally means everything we know about everything. The most astonishing thing here is just how the rogue planet went unnoticed so long.
The planet was not directly visible from our point in the Milky Way
Despite sharing the same galaxy as us, even millennia of astronomy efforts could not reveal it. At least, of course, in the traditional sense. While Venus occasionally comes close enough to our orbit to become visible to the naked eye, this rogue planet escaped even advanced telescopic and satellite imaging.
Instead, the only way to unveil it was using a computerized method called ‘gravitational microlensing‘. This technique essentially works on invisible objects by examining the curving of light rays around it. The scientists used the 1.3 metre Warsaw Telescope in Chile to examine the planet, which did not orbit any sun. Illuminated by nearby stars, the planet bent significant amounts of light that the system was able to fill in the gaps. Using this extrapolated data, an artist rendered the image as below.
While the finding certainly holds interest, scientists begin to wonder just how much of the Milky Way remains uncharted
With all of the scientific advancements humanity accomplished within the last hundred years, perhaps complacency is only natural. We have a Rover on Mars, bases on the moon, and the entire International Space Station. These accomplishments were certainly difficult to achieve, but mark a forward trajectory in space exploration. However, while we may peer into distant galaxies millions of lightyears away, our own Milky Way remains uncharted.
In fact, this discovery of the rogue planet reignited skepticism and incredulousness. And, more importantly, it begged the question. Just how many other celestial bodies remain undetected within this galaxy?
In another bizarre but alarming turn of events, NASA seemingly dropped the ball a few months ago too. An entire asteroid, of gigantic proportions, passed within striking distance of the Earth. It was a near-hit but luckily went through deflection at the last moment. And the worst part? NASA only noticed the asteroid’s path 6 hours after it passed by. Humbling little gaps in our knowledge like this show us just how much space exploration needs to be done!
The origins of the rogue planet seem somewhat remarkable, and further space exploration is merited
The concept of rogue planets existed long before this one. That said, this phenomenon, where a giant body somehow evades capture from surrounding stars is unusual. Gravity fields, orbits, and debris all occur quite commonly in this galaxy, so a lone planet in free roam becomes rare. NASA and other space exploration bodies may just now double-down on their efforts to understand more about the Earth’s surroundings.
All in all, this week may just have been the most eventful in terms of space discoveries. For more on the latest tech, science, and space breakthroughs, stay tuned!