This video shows an artist's impression of the free-floating planet CFBDSIR J214947.2-040308.9.

A rogue (alternately interstellar, nomad, orphan, starless, unbound, or wandering) planet, also termed a free-floating planet (FFP) or an isolated planetary-mass object (iPMO), is an interstellar object of planetary mass which is not gravitationally bound to any star or brown dwarf.[1][2][3][4]

Rogue planets may originate from planetary systems in which they are formed and later ejected, or they can also form on their own, outside a planetary system. The Milky Way alone may have billions to trillions of rogue planets, a range the upcoming Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope will likely be able to narrow.[5][6]

Some planetary-mass objects may have formed in a similar way to stars, and the International Astronomical Union has proposed that such objects be called sub-brown dwarfs.[7] A possible example is Cha 110913−773444, which may either have been ejected and become a rogue planet or formed on its own to become a sub-brown dwarf.[8]

Name

The two first discovery papers use the names isolated planetary-mass objects (iPMO)[9] and free-floating planets (FFP).[10] Most astronomical papers use one of these terms.[11][12][13] The term rogue planet is more often used for microlensing studies, which also often uses the term FFP.[14][15] A press release intended for the public might use an alternative name. The discovery of at least 70 FFPs in 2021, for example, used the terms rogue planet,[16] starless planet,[17] wandering planet[18] and free-floating planet[19] in different press releases.

Discovery

Isolated planetary-mass objects (iPMO) were first discovered in 2000 by the UK team Lucas & Roche with UKIRT in the Orion Nebula.[10] In the same year the Spanish team Zapatero Osorio et al. discovered iPMOs with Keck spectroscopy in the σ Orionis cluster.[9] The spectroscopy of the objects in the Orion Nebula was published in 2001.[20] Both European teams are now recognized for their quasi-simultaneous discoveries.[21] In the year 1999 the Japanese team Oasa et al. discovered objects in Chamaeleon I[22] that were spectroscopically confirmed years later in 2004 by the US team Luhman et al.[23]

In October 2023, astronomers, based on observations of the Orion Nebula with the James Webb Space Telescope, reported the discovery of pairs of rogue planets, similar in mass to the planet Jupiter, and called JuMBOs (short for Jupiter Mass Binary Objects).[24][25]

Observation

115 potential rogue planets in the region between Upper Scorpius and Ophiuchus (2021)

There are two techniques to discover free-floating planets: direct imaging and microlensing.

Microlensing

Astrophysicist Takahiro Sumi of Osaka University in Japan and colleagues, who form the Microlensing Observations in Astrophysics and the Optical Gravitational Lensing Experiment collaborations, published their study of microlensing in 2011. They observed 50 million stars in the Milky Way by using the 1.8-metre (5 ft 11 in) MOA-II telescope at New Zealand's Mount John Observatory and the 1.3-metre (4 ft 3 in) University of Warsaw telescope at Chile's Las Campanas Observatory. They found 474 incidents of microlensing, ten of which were brief enough to be planets of around Jupiter's size with no associated star in the immediate vicinity. The researchers estimated from their observations that there are nearly two Jupiter-mass rogue planets for every star in the Milky Way.[26][27][28] One study suggested a much larger number, up to 100,000 times more rogue planets than stars in the Milky Way, though this study encompassed hypothetical objects much smaller than Jupiter.[29] A 2017 study by Przemek Mróz of Warsaw University Observatory and colleagues, with six times larger statistics than the 2011 study, indicates an upper limit on Jupiter-mass free-floating or wide-orbit planets of 0.25 planets per main-sequence star in the Milky Way.[30]

In September 2020, astronomers using microlensing techniques reported the detection, for the first time, of an Earth-mass rogue planet (named OGLE-2016-BLG-1928) unbound to any star and free floating in the Milky Way galaxy.[15][31][32]

In December 2013, a candidate exomoon of a rogue planet (MOA-2011-BLG-262) was announced.[14]

Direct imaging

The cold planetary-mass object WISE J0830+2837 (marked orange object) observed with the Spitzer Space Telescope. It has a temperature of 300-350 K (27-77°C; 80-170 °F)

Microlensing planets can only be studied by the microlensing event, which makes the characterization of the planet difficult. Astronomers therefore turn to isolated planetary-mass objects (iPMO) that were found via the direct imaging method. To determine a mass of a brown dwarf or iPMO one needs for example the luminosity and the age of an object.[33] Determining the age of a low-mass object has proven to be difficult. It is no surprise that the vast majority of iPMOs are found inside young nearby star-forming regions of which astronomers know their age. These objects are younger than 200 Myrs, are massive (>5 MJ)[4] and belong to the L- and T-dwarfs.[34][35] There is however a small growing sample of cold and old Y-dwarfs that have estimated masses of 8-20 MJ.[36] Nearby rogue planet candidates of spectral type Y include WISE 0855−0714 at a distance of 7.27±0.13 light-years.[37] If this sample of Y-dwarfs can be characterized with more accurate measurements or if a way to better characterize their ages can be found, the number of old and cold iPMOs will likely increase significantly.

The first iPMOs were discovered in the early 2000s via direct imaging inside young star-forming regions.[38][9][20] These iPMOs found via direct imaging formed probably like stars (sometimes called sub-brown dwarf). There might be iPMOs that form like a planet, which are then ejected. These objects will however be kinematically different from their natal star-forming region, should not be surrounded by a circumstellar disk and have high metallicity.[21] None of the iPMOs found inside young star-forming regions show a high velocity compared to their star-forming region. For old iPMOs the cold WISE J0830+2837[39] shows a Vtan of about 100 km/s, which is high, but still consistent with formation in our galaxy. For WISE 1534–1043[40] one alternative scenario explains this object as an ejected exoplanet due to its high Vtan of about 200 km/s, but its color suggests it is an old metal-poor brown dwarf. Most astronomers studying massive iPMOs believe that they represent the low-mass end of the star-formation process.[21]

Astronomers have used the Herschel Space Observatory and the Very Large Telescope to observe a very young free-floating planetary-mass object, OTS 44, and demonstrate that the processes characterizing the canonical star-like mode of formation apply to isolated objects down to a few Jupiter masses. Herschel far-infrared observations have shown that OTS 44 is surrounded by a disk of at least 10 Earth masses and thus could eventually form a mini planetary system.[41] Spectroscopic observations of OTS 44 with the SINFONI spectrograph at the Very Large Telescope have revealed that the disk is actively accreting matter, similar to the disks of young stars.[41]

Jupiter-Mass Binary Objects

JuMBO 31 to 35 in the Orion Nebula with NIRCam

In the Orion Nebula a population of 40 wide binaries and 2 triple systems were discovered. This was surprising for two reasons: The trend of binaries of brown dwarfs predicted a decrease of distance between low mass objects with decreasing mass. It was also predicted that the binary fraction decreases with mass. These binaries were coined Jupiter-Mass Binary Objects (JuMBOs), They make up at least 9% of the iPMOs and have a separation smaller than 340 AU. It is unclear how these JuMBOs might have formed. If they formed like stars, then there must be an unknown "extra ingredient" to allow them to form. If they formed like planets and were later ejected, then it has to be explained why these binaries did not break apart during the ejection process.[25] Future proper motion measurements with JWST might resolve if these objects formed as ejected planets or as stars. Ejected planets should show a high proper motion, while a formation like stars should show proper motions similar to the Trapezium Cluster stars.

Other suspected JuMBOs are known outside the Orion Nebula, such as 2MASS J11193254–1137466 AB, 2MASS J1553022+153236AB,[42][43] WISE 1828+2650, WISE J0336−0143 (could also be BD+PMO binary) and 2MASS J0013−1143.

Total number of known iPMOs

There are likely hundreds[44][25] of known candidate iPMOs, over a hundred[45][46][47] objects with spectra and a small but growing number of candidates discovered via microlensing. Some large surveys include:

As of December 2021, the largest ever group of rogue planets was discovered, numbering at least 70 and up to 170 depending on the assumed age. They are found in the OB association between Upper Scorpius and Ophiuchus with masses between 4 and 13 MJ and age around 3 to 10 million years, and were most likely formed by either gravitational collapse of gas clouds, or formation in a protoplanetary disk followed by ejection due to dynamical instabilities.[44][16][48][18] Follow-up observations with spectroscopy from the Subaru Telescope and Gran Telescopio Canarias showed that the contamination of this sample is quite low (≤6%). The 16 young objects had a mass between 3 and 14 MJ, confirming that they are indeed planetary-mass objects.[47]

In October 2023 an even larger group of 540 planetary-mass object candidates were discovered in the Trapezium Cluster and inner Orion Nebula with JWST. The objects have a mass between 13 and 0.6 MJ. A surprising number of these objects formed wide binaries, which was not predicted previously.[25]

Formation

There are in general two scenarios that can lead to the formation of an isolated planetary-mass object (iPMO). It can form like a planet around a star and is then ejected, or it forms like a low-mass star or brown dwarf in isolation. This can influence its composition and motion.[21]

Formation like a star

Main article: Sub-brown dwarf

Objects with a mass of at least one Jupiter mass were thought to be able to form via collapse and fragmentation of molecular clouds from models in 2001.[49] Pre-JWST observations have shown that objects below 3-5 MJ are unlikely to form on their own.[4] Observations in 2023 in the Trapezium Cluster with JWST have shown that objects as massive as 0.6 MJ might form on their own, not requiring a steep cut-off mass.[25] A particular type of globule, called globulettes, are thought to be birthplaces for brown dwarfs and planetary-mass objects. Globulettes are found in the Rosette Nebula and IC 1805.[50] Sometimes young iPMOs are still surrounded by a disk that could form exomoons. Due to the tight orbit of this type of exomoon around their host planet, they have a high chance of 10-15% to be transiting.[51]

Disks

Some very young star-forming regions, typically younger than 5 million years, sometimes contain isolated planetary-mass objects with infrared excess and signs of accretion. Most well known is the iPMO OTS 44 discovered to have a disk and being located in Chamaeleon I. Charmaeleon I and II have other candidate iPMOs with disks.[52][53][34] Other star-forming regions with iPMOs with disks or accretion are Lupus I,[53] Rho Ophiuchi Cloud Complex,[54] Sigma Orionis cluster,[55] Orion Nebula,[56] Taurus,[54][57] NGC 1333[58] and IC 348.[59] A large survey of disks around brown dwarfs and iPMOs with ALMA found that these disks are not massive enough to form earth-mass planets. There is still the possibility that the disks already have formed planets.[54] Studies of red dwarfs have shown that some have gas-rich disks at an relative old age. These disks were dubbed Peter Pan Disks and this trend could continue into the planetary-mass regime. One Peter Pan disk is the 45 Myr old brown dwarf 2MASS J02265658-5327032 with a mass of about 13.7 MJ, which is close to the planetary-mass regime.[60]

Formation like a planet

Ejected planets are predicted to be mostly low-mass (<30 ME Figure 1 Ma et al.)[61] and their mean mass depends on the mass of their host star. Simulations by Ma et al.[61] did show that 17.5% of 1 M stars eject a total of 16.8 ME per star with a typical (median) mass of 0.8 ME for an individual free-floating planet (FFP). For lower mass red dwarfs with a mass of 0.3 M 12% of stars eject a total of 5.1 ME per star with a typical mass of 0.3 ME for an individual FFP.

Hong et al.[62] predicted that exomoons can be scattered by planet-planet interactions and become ejected exomoons.

Higher mass (0.3-1 MJ) ejected FFP are predicted to be possible, but they are also predicted to be rare.[61]

Fate

Most isolated planetary-mass objects will float in interstellar space forever.

Some iPMOs will have a close encounter with a planetary system. This rare encounter can have three outcomes: The iPMO will remain unbound, it could be weakly bound to the star, or it could "kick out" the exoplanet, replacing it. Simulations have shown that the vast majority of these encounters result in a capture event with the iPMO being weakly bound with a low gravitational binding energy and an elongated highly eccentric orbit. These orbits are not stable and 90% of these objects gain energy due to planet-planet encounters and are ejected back into interstellar space. Only 1% of all stars will experience this temporary capture.[63]

Warmth

Artist's conception of a Jupiter-size rogue planet.

Interstellar planets generate little heat and are not heated by a star.[64] However, in 1998, David J. Stevenson theorized that some planet-sized objects adrift in interstellar space might sustain a thick atmosphere that would not freeze out. He proposed that these atmospheres would be preserved by the pressure-induced far-infrared radiation opacity of a thick hydrogen-containing atmosphere.[65]

During planetary-system formation, several small protoplanetary bodies may be ejected from the system.[66] An ejected body would receive less of the stellar-generated ultraviolet light that can strip away the lighter elements of its atmosphere. Even an Earth-sized body would have enough gravity to prevent the escape of the hydrogen and helium in its atmosphere.[65] In an Earth-sized object the geothermal energy from residual core radioisotope decay could maintain a surface temperature above the melting point of water,[65] allowing liquid-water oceans to exist. These planets are likely to remain geologically active for long periods. If they have geodynamo-created protective magnetospheres and sea floor volcanism, hydrothermal vents could provide energy for life.[65] These bodies would be difficult to detect because of their weak thermal microwave radiation emissions, although reflected solar radiation and far-infrared thermal emissions may be detectable from an object that is less than 1,000 astronomical units from Earth.[67] Around five percent of Earth-sized ejected planets with Moon-sized natural satellites would retain their satellites after ejection. A large satellite would be a source of significant geological tidal heating.[68]

List

The table below lists rogue planets, confirmed or suspected, that have been discovered. It is yet unknown whether these planets were ejected from orbiting a star or else formed on their own as sub-brown dwarfs. Whether exceptionally low-mass rogue planets (such as OGLE-2012-BLG-1323 and KMT-2019-BLG-2073) are even capable of being formed on their own is currently unknown.

Discovered via direct imaging

These objects were discovered with the direct imaging method. Many were discovered in young star-clusters or stellar associations and a few old are known (such as W0855). List is sorted after discovery year.

Exoplanet Mass

(MJ)

Age

(Myr)

Distance

(ly)

Spectral type Status Stellar assoc. membership Discovery
OTS 44 11.5~ 0.5–3 554 M9.5 Likely a low-mass brown dwarf[38] Chamaeleon I 1998
S Ori 52 2–8 1–5 1,150 Age and mass uncertain; may be a foreground brown dwarf σ Orionis cluster 2000[9]
Proplyd 061-401 ~11 1 1,344 L4–L5 Candidate, 15 candidates in total from this work Orion nebula 2001[20]
S Ori 70 3 3 1150 T6 interloper?[21] σ Orionis cluster 2002
Cha 110913-773444 5–15 2~ 529 >M9.5 Candidate Chamaeleon I 2004[69]
SIMP J013656.5+093347 11-13 200~ 20-22 T2.5 Candidate Carina-Near moving group 2006[70][71]
UGPS J072227.51−054031.2 0.66–16.02[72][73] 1000 – 5000 13 T9 Mass uncertain none 2010
M10-4450 2–3 1 325 T Candidate rho Ophiuchi cloud 2010[74]
WISE 1828+2650 3–6 or 0.5–20[75] 2–4 or 0.1–10[75] 47 >Y2 candidate, could be binary none 2011
CFBDSIR 2149−0403 4–7 110–130 117–143 T7 Candidate AB Doradus moving group 2012[76]
SONYC-NGC1333-36 ~6 1 978 L3 candidate, NGC 1333 has two other objects with masses below 15 MJ NGC 1333 2012[77]
SSTc2d J183037.2+011837 2–4 3 848–1354 T? Candidate, also called ID 4 Serpens Core cluster[78] (in the Serpens Cloud) 2012[11]
PSO J318.5−22 6.24–7.60[72][73] 21–27 72.32 L7 Confirmed; also known as 2MASS J21140802-2251358 Beta Pictoris Moving group 2013[13][79]
2MASS J2208+2921 11–13 21–27 115 L3γ Candidate; radial velocity needed Beta Pictoris Moving group 2014[80]
WISE J1741-4642 4–21 23–130 L7pec Candidate Beta Pictoris or AB Doradus moving group 2014[81]
WISE 0855−0714 3–10 >1,000 7.1 Y4 Age uncertain, but old due to solar vicinity object;[82] candidate even for an old age of 12 Gyrs (age of the universe is 13.8 Gyrs) none 2014[83]
2MASS J12074836–3900043 ~15[84] 7–13 200 L1 Candidate; distance needed TW Hydrae association 2014[85]
SIMP J2154–1055 9–11 30–50 63 L4β Age questioned[86] Argus association 2014[87]
SDSS J111010.01+011613.1 10.83–11.73[72][73] 110–130 63 T5.5 Confirmed[72] AB Doradus moving group 2015[35]
2MASS J11193254–1137466 AB 4–8 7–13 ~90 L7 Binary candidate, one of the components has a candidate exomoon or variable atmosphere[51] TW Hydrae Association 2016[88]
WISEA 1147 5–13 7–13 ~100 L7 Candidate TW Hydrae Association 2016[12]
USco J155150.2-213457 8–10 6.907-10 104 L6 Candidate, low gravity Upper Scorpius association 2016[89]
Proplyd 133-353 <13 0.5–1 1,344 M9.5 Candidate with a photoevaporating disk Orion Nebula 2016[56]
Cha J11110675-7636030 3–6 1–3 520–550 M9–L2 Candidate, but could be surrounded by a disk, which could make it a sub-brown dwarf; other candidates from this work Chamaeleon I 2017[34]
PSO J077.1+24 6 1–2 470 L2 Candidate, work also published another candidate in Taurus Taurus Molecular Cloud 2017[90]
Calar 25 11–12 120 435 Confirmed Pleiades 2018[91]
2MASS J1324+6358 10.7–11.8 ~150 ~33 T2 unusually red and unlikely binary; robust candidate[72][73] AB Doradus moving group 2007, 2018[92]
WISE J0830+2837 4-13 >1,000 31.3-42.7 >Y1 Age uncertain, but old because of high velocity (high Vtan is indicative of an old stellar population), Candidate if younger than 10 Gyrs none 2020[39]
2MASS J0718-6415 3 ± 1 16-28 30.5 T5 Candidate member of the BPMG. Extremely short rotation period of 1.08 hours, comparable to the brown dwarf 2MASS J0348-6022.[93][94] Beta Pictoris moving group 2021
DANCe J16081299-2304316 3.1–6.3 3–10 104 L6 One of at least 70 candidates published in this work, spectrum similar to HR 8799c Upper Scorpius association 2021[44][47]
WISE J2255−3118 2.15–2.59 24 ~45 T8 very red, candidate[72][73] Beta Pictoris moving group 2011,2021[46]
WISE J024124.73-365328.0 4.64–5.30 45 ~61 T7 candidate[72][73] Argus association 2012, 2021[46]
2MASS J0013−1143 7.29–8.25 45 ~82 T4 binary candidate or composite atmosphere, candidate[72][73] Argus association 2017, 2021[46]
SDSS J020742.48+000056.2 7.11–8.61 45 ~112 T4.5 candidate[72][73] Argus association 2002, 2021[46]
2MASSI J0453264-175154 12.68–12.98 24 ~99 L2.5β low gravity, candidate[72][73] Beta Pictoris moving group 2003, 2023[72][73]
CWISE J0506+0738 7 ± 2 22 104 L8γ–T0γ Candidate member of the BPMG. Extreme red near-infrared colors.[95] Beta Pictoris moving group 2023

Discovered via microlensing

These objects were discovered via microlensing. Rogue planets discovered via microlensing can only be studied by the lensing event and are often also consistent with exoplanets in a wide orbit around an unseen star.[96]

Exoplanet Mass (MJ) Mass (ME) Distance (ly) Status Discovery
MOA-2011-BLG-262L 115 or 3.6 36,550 or 1,144 1,800 or 23,000 likely a red dwarf 2013
OGLE-2012-BLG-1323 0.0072–0.072 2.3–23 candidate; distance needed 2017[97][98][99][100]
OGLE-2017-BLG-0560 1.9–20 604–3,256 candidate; distance needed 2017[98][99][100]
MOA-2015-BLG-337L 9.85 3,130 23,156 may be a binary brown dwarf instead 2018[101]
KMT-2019-BLG-2073 0.19 59 candidate; distance needed 2020[102]
OGLE-2016-BLG-1928 0.001-0.006 0.3–2 30,000–180,000 candidate 2020[96]
OGLE-2019-BLG-0551 0.0242-0.3 7.69–95 Poorly characterized[103] 2020[103]
VVV-2012-BLG-0472L 10.5 3,337 3,200 2022[104]
MOA-9y-770L 0.07 22.3+42.2
−17.4
22,700 2023[105]
MOA-9y-5919L 0.0012 or 0.0024 0.37+1.11
−0.27
or 0.75+1.23
−0.46
14,700 or 19,300 2023[105]

See also

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