Earth, meet PSO J318.5-22—the latest planet to be discovered by astronomers.
The new-found planet lies 80 light-years from Earth and has properties resembling a gas giant, like Jupiter. But what’s most notable about PSO J318.5-22 is that it’s a lonely, solo planet—it’s not orbiting any star or part of any solar system.
“We have never before seen an object free-floating in space that that looks like this,” said Michael Liu, astronomer at the Institute for Astronomy at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and team leader, in a news release. “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 isolated planet formed 12 million years ago, which makes it a “newborn” in space terms (by contrast, most scientists agree Earth is about 4.54 billion years old).
PSO J318.5-22 was found while the astronomers were searching for brown dwarfs, or failed stars, which faintly emit a red color. The new planet stood out as brighter and redder than typical brown dwarfs when spotted by a telescope on Maleakala, Maui.
The new planet joins a long list of other planets that have been found outside our solar system, including our closest neighbor, Alpha Centauri B; Gliese 1214b, a planet that was recently discovered may hold water; and Kappa Andromedae b, a gas giant 13 times the mass of Jupiter.
Like many newly spotted planets, this discovery was dubbed with a string of letters and numbers. We think it warrants a real name—but should it follow the tradition in our solar system of naming planets after gods of mythology, like Venus, Mars, and Neptune? Or should its moniker reflect the planet’s unique status as a loner? Leave your suggestions in the comments below.