The Great Nebula in Orion (M42) is a gigantic cloud of dust and gas, which is also a concentration of, among others, stars, protoplanetary disks (clouds of material around young stars from which planets will form) and brown dwarfs (star-like objects, so-called failed stars). Now scientists have spotted something even more unusual in M42.
Researchers have discovered free-floating planets in the Orion Nebula. Amazing photos from the Webb telescope.
The Orion Nebula is one of the brightest deep sky objects (the brightest diffuse nebula in the sky) and is easily visible even to the naked eye. It is therefore not surprising that astronomers have known it for over four centuries (since 1610). Only photos from the James Webb Space Telescope – the best telescope we have today – allowed it to be shown in such an extremely detailed way.
In two photographs published online by ESA (European Space Agency), researchers found 40 pairs of free planets inside the Orion Nebula. Floating (or solitary) planets are exoplanets that are not gravitationally bound to any star (or brown dwarf). Each has a mass several times that of Jupiter and travels through M42 with the assistance of a second, very similar free-floating planet. Scientists have already named the newly discovered objects JuMBO (for Jupiter-Mass Binary Objects).
For now, however, they do not know how such objects could have been built in this place. Typically, planets are formed in protoplanetary disks, i.e. in dense clouds of gas and dust that rotate around newly formed stars. This is how the Earth and all the planets of the solar system were born.
According to one hypothesis, the free planets in the Orion Nebula could have formed completely independently – in star-forming regions, which are abundant in M42. These are ionized clouds of gas (mainly hydrogen) in which stars form. Researchers think JuMBOs may have been born in places where the gas density was too low to form a brown dwarf or star.
The second hypothesis is that the free planets in M42 formed near their host stars, but due to the gravitational action of other massive objects (e.g. nearby stars), they were ejected from their orbits and travel alone through space.
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