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As Many as 50 Billion Rogue Planets May Exist in the Milky Way Galaxy Alone

Around 50 Billion free-floating-rogue planets exist in the Milky Way alone. There are around one hundred billion galaxies in the observable universe.

More Nearly three decades ago, astronomers were unsure whether or not distant alien stars had any planets orbiting them.

Then, during the 1990s we discovered the first exoplanets and astronomers knew that our sun was not that special after all.

Image Credit: Thibaut Rover / University of Zurich.
Image Credit: Thibaut Rover / University of Zurich.

But what about planets that do not orbit any known stars?

What about rogue planets that travel the cosmos freely?

These planets may not be so rare, even though to date, astronomers have discovered only a handful of them.

But a new study presented by scientists from the University of Leiden suggests that they may be as many as 50 billion rogue planets in the Milky Way alone. That’s Billion.

This number just shows you how humongously large the universe we live in is.

Using a computer simulation scientists from the University of Leiden focused on around 1,500 stars in the Orion Trapezium, a well-known region of star formation located some 1,300 light-years away in the Orion Nebula.

NGC 1999: South of Orion Credit & Copyright: Robert Gendler
NGC 1999: South of Orion. Credit & Copyright: Robert Gendler.

We have absolutely no idea the number of planets that orbit stars there, but the model used by scientists included between four and six planets.

The researchers assigned 500 stars a different number of planets, some were given 4, some 5, some were given 6 planets each, totaling 2,522 planets.

Their masses ranged between three times that of our planet to as much as 130 times the mass of Jupiter.

Scientists discovered that of the total of 2,522 planets, 357 of them would become free-floating planets within the first 11 million years of their evolution.

Simon Portegies Zwart, an astronomer at the University of Leiden, recently told Bruce Dorminey of Forbes:

Of these, 281 leave the cluster, others remain bound to the cluster as free-floating intra-cluster planets.

But scientists wanted to find out the larger picture and extrapolated those number to the rest of the galaxy, using as a starting point the estimates that there are around 200 billion stars in our galaxy alone.

If the stars ion the Milky Way have lost one or more planet, there could be at least some 50 billion free-floating planets in the Milky Way.

And that’s just in our galaxy alone.

According to the best estimates of astronomers, there are at least one hundred billion galaxies in the observable universe.

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Astronomy & Astrophysics
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