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Hawaii telescopes help discover planet without a star

By Star-Advertiser staff

LAST UPDATED: 2:40 a.m. HST, Oct 10, 2013

Astronomers, using the Pan-STARRS 1 telescope on Haleakala, have discovered a celestial oddity -- a large, young planet that is not orbiting a star, it was announced Wednesday.

"We have never before seen an object free-floating in space that looks like this," Michael Liu, team leader of Institute for Astronomy at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, said in a news release. "It has all the characteristics of young planets found around other stars, but it is drifting out there all alone."

The planet, called PSO J318.5-22, is 80 light-years away from Earth, has a mass six times greater than Jupiter, and is only about 12 million years old, which is young for a planet, the scientists said.

"I had often wondered if such solitary objects exist, and now we know they do," Liu said.

According to the IFA, the planet has properties similar to those of gas-giant planets found orbiting young stars.

The Pan-STARRS 1 telescope is used to search for failed stars known as "brown dwarfs," which have cool temperatures, are very faint and have red coloring.

The lonely planet PSO J318.5-22 stood out as Pan-STARRS 1 scanned the skies because it was redder than even the reddest known brown dwarfs, according to the astronomers.

"We often describe looking for rare celestial objects as akin to searching for a needle in a haystack. So we decided to search the biggest haystack that exists in astronomy, the dataset from (Pan-STARRS 1,)" Eugene Magnier of IFA and a co-author of the study said in the release.

The astronomers used telescopes on Mauna Kea to verify their discovery.

The team's paper on their discovery is being published by Astrophysical Journal Letters and is available at The other authors of the paper include Katelyn Allers (Bucknell University), Trent Dupuy (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics), and Michael Kotson and Kimberly Aller (UH-Manoa.)

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