James Webb observes several pairs of planets, hanging around without stars

“Physics says you can’t even make things that small.”

Jumbo discovery

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has discovered hundreds of lone “planets” that appear to float in empty space without being attached to any star in particular. But many of them are not completely alone: ​​they appear in pairs.

The discovery of these binary Jupiter-mass objects (JuMBOs), which turned up in a new survey of the Orion Nebula, has mystified astronomers, and could force scientists to re-evaluate our current models of how planetary systems form.

“My reactions ranged from: ‘What?!?’ to ‘Are you sure?’ to ‘That’s so weird!’ to ‘How can binaries be tossed together?’” interdisciplinary scientist and James Webb Space Telescope scientist Heidi Hamel, who was not Within the survey team, L said BBC.

Scientists have two possible explanations for this unusual phenomenon. They could either be protoplanets that never had a chance to fully form, or they originated in solar systems, but were later ejected into interstellar space.

“We were looking for these very small objects and we found them,” said Mark Macogrian, a senior advisor for science and exploration at the European Space Agency. Tell Watchman. “At the bottom we find it the size of Jupiter’s mass, or even half the mass of Jupiter, floating freely, not attached to a star.”

“Physics says you can’t even make things that small,” he added. “We wanted to see, can we break the physics? And I think we did, which is good.”

NASA/ESA/CSA/McChaughrian & Pearson

Chihuahua-mas pets

They may have some of the characteristics of planets, such as a hot atmosphere containing steam and methane, but experts say they are not technically planets.

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McCaughrian had an evocative analogy to explain this distinction.

“Most of us don’t have time to engage in this debate about what is a planet and what is not a planet,” Macogrian said. Watchman. “It’s as if my cat is a pet Chihuahua. But it’s not a Chihuahua, it’s a cat.”

While McCaughrian suggested in an interview with BBC “The repulsion hypothesis is currently favored,” and the fact that James Webb identified about 40 massive objects in pairs further complicates matters.

“But how do you fire pairs of these things together?” L said BBC. “Right now, we don’t have an answer. It’s an answer for theorists.”

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