The object was discovered back in 2016 but it has now been described as a 'rogue planet' after scientists determined it was moving on its own, without an orbiting star.

By Daniel Herborn

Posted on August 7, 2018

The object, which is currently around 20 light years from Earth, is more than 12 times the size of Jupiter. Scientists are intrigued by its unusually strong auras and magnetic fields. Its fields are between 16 and 54 times more powerful than earth’s and around 200 times more powerful than Jupiter’s.

A new study published in The Astrophysical Journal says the object could lead to a greater knowledge of the universe outside the earth’s solar system.

“This object is right at the boundary between a planet and a brown dwarf, or ‘failed star’, and is giving us some surprises that can potentially help us understand magnetic processes on both stars and planets,” said Dr Melodie Kao, the lead study author and an astronomer at Arizona State University.

Yet to be given a catchy name by the scientists that have observed it through the National Science Foundation’s advanced radio telescope arrays, the object is officially known as SIMP J01365663+0933473.

Above: The Very Large Antennas used to describe the brown dwarf. Each antenna weighs about 230 tons. (Credit: Alex Savello/NRAO)

SIMP’s magnetic fields mean it produces aesthetically stunning ‘light shows’ somewhat similar to earth’s Northern and Southern lights. The brightly coloured auroras are produced differently however and scientists have theorised it may be the product of charged particles coming from a yet to be discovered moon.

Brown dwarfs or ‘failed stars’

Brown dwarfs are objects which are much larger than planets yet unable to sustain nuclear fusion of hydrogen in their cores, hence the name failed stars. This fusion is the process that powers stars.

It was once thought that no such object could exist and the first failed star was not discovered until 1995.

The most recent research also concluded the rogue planet was not as old as previously thought. Its age is now estimated at around 200 million years.

The detection of SIMP J01365663+0933473 through the Very Large Array’s auroral radio emission also represents a novel means of detecting planets or planet-like objects outside the solar system.

“We may have a new way of detecting exoplanets, including the elusive rogue ones not orbiting a parent star,” said Greg Hallinan of Caltech, who was one of the Caltech scientists who worked on the project.

The observations were made by the Very Large Array (VLA), a collection of 27 powerful radio antennas located at the NRAO site in Socorro, New Mexico.

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Header image: Chuck Carter; NRAO/AUI/NSF/Caltech