“We have never before seen an object free-floating in space that that looks like this. It has all the characteristics of young planets found around other stars, but it is drifting out there all alone,” stated team leader Michael Liu, who is with the Institute for Astronomy at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. “I had often wondered if such solitary objects exist, and now we know they do.”
The planet is about 80 light-years from Earth, which is quite close, and is part of a star group named after Beta Pictoris that also came together about 12 million years ago. There is a planet in orbit around Beta Pictoris itself, but PSO J318.5-22 has a lower mass and likely had a different formation scenario, the researchers said.