Space news has recently been dominated by the discovery of fascinating new exoplanets. After NASA announced the discovery of the TRAPPIST-1 system, the internet briefly lost its mind with conjectures of these possibly habitable alien worlds. While those worlds might indeed harbor life, it is far too early to tell; based on the distance to the TRAPPIST-1 system, we might not know for decades. Just this week, however, a baffling exoplanet announcement by French astronomers has once more caught the imagination of space geeks everywhere and demonstrated that there are plenty of strange new worlds left to discover in the reaches of deep space.
The announcement concerns the object CFBDSIR 2149-0403 (or CFBDSIR J214947.2-040308.9 if you’re not into the whole brevity thing), a strange object spotted by astronomers in 2012. While it first appeared to be a low-mass brown dwarf planet, a study published by researchers at Grenoble Alpes University is showing that CFBDSIR 2149-0403 might be a “rogue” planet which does not belong to a solar system, possibly the first of its kind. According to lead author Philippe Delorme, there are two likely hypotheses for the identity of the strange planet-like object:
CFBDSIR 2149-0403 is an atypical substellar object that is either a 'free-floating planet' or a rare high-metallicity brown dwarf. Or a combination of both.
Initial analyses concluded that CFBDSIR 2149-0403 was part of the AB Doradus Moving Group, a free-moving group of stars hurtling through the Milky Way. However, this new study conjectures that this “rogue” planet is indeed isolated and could even be an entirely unique celestial object.
According to the team’s open-source publication on arXiv.org, part of the problem in classifying CFBDSIR 2149-0403 lies in the fact that scientifically speaking, we have just begun to understand how to study the composition of exoplanets and other objects:
Our theoretical understanding of cool, low-gravity and/or metallicity-enhanced atmospheres is not yet robust enough to decisively discriminate between these two hypotheses, especiallybecause these physical parameters have very similar effects on the emergent spectra of such atmospheres.
Studies like these show just how little we know about even our galactic neighborhood, much less the expanse of the universe. As our telescopes and other long-range sensors improve, more and more mysterious, unexplained objects are being discovered. Who knows what unknown wonders might lie just beyond our perception?