Hot on the heels of the launch of the James Webb telescope comes news from the European Southern Observatory that it has photographed between 70 and 170 “rogue” planets outside of our solar system. Using data spanning some 20 years, the ESO located the planets by observing tiny shifts in the color and luminosity of the objects which roam the galaxy untethered to a star, the ESO reports.
Though they are not illuminated by a star’s light, the planets still glow hot following their formation and this is what astronomers detect using deep space telescopes and their specially tuned instruments.
Project leader and astronomer at the Laboratoire d’Astrophysique de Bordeaux, France, Hervé Bouy, commented that “The vast majority of our data come from ESO observatories, which were absolutely critical for this study. Their wide field of view and unique sensitivity were keys to our success. We used tens of thousands of wide-field images from ESO facilities, corresponding to hundreds of hours of observations, and literally tens of terabytes of data.”
The ESO reports that the data comes from a combined effort of their own appropriately named Very Large Telescope (VLT) as well as the Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy (VISTA), the VLT Survey Telescope (VST), and Chile’s MPG/ESO.
So far, the findings from the ESO seem to indicate that there are a lot of these rogue planets out there and figuring out how they’re formed – and why they get “kicked out” of their home star system – is likely to be the focus of future missions. Currently under construction in Chile, the Extremely Large Telescope is expected to further scientific capabilities in this area.
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