Worlds Without a Star

Free-floating planet conception
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

We are small — very small — isolated in our ways, and environments. So rarely do we trouble ourselves to imagine beyond whatever sky contains us.

Astronomers do. Physicists do. As do philosophers, poets, and even some writers. Politicians unconcerned with their own petty gains imagine what might lay beyond for us, in what may become our future. There are few.

Perhaps it is a sad tail; a failed sun. Not quite enough mass to ignite, though larger than Jupiter — flung out from its stellar nursery before gathering enough of itself in.

Dark planets drifting through our space with no star to fall toward. Warping the background points of light, invisible but for the slightest noticeable effect. Through the force that binds all things despite any distance.

Small collapsing spheres of dust larger than our world — more numerous than the stars.

Japan and New Zealand working together discovered these “free-floating” planets by observing gravitational lensing effects. That is, they watched how something invisible was warping spacetime in the night sky, by seeing star positions distort as it passed. The level of detail they must observe is astonishing, particularly from ground-based telescopes.

Just look what we can see.