Around 40 pairs of these were identified by the JWST, the largest and most powerful telescope in space, during a survey of the Orion Nebula.The telescope is an international partnership between Nasa, European Space Agency (ESA) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). These objects are too small to be stars, but also defy the conventional definition of aplanet because they are not in orbit around a parent star. The mysterious objects have left astronomers baffled.
On microblogging site X, ESA on Tuesday posted: “New space images! The NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope has added detailed images of the Orion Nebula to our ESASky application. Zoom into this region with a rich diversity of phenomena including protostars, brown dwarfs and even free-floating planets!”
The Orion Nebula is a region of star formation 1,350 light-years from Earth, located in the belt of the northern hemisphere constellation of Orion. It has long been studied by astronomers, but the scientists involved in the new Webb telescope study of the area, released on Monday, say the new images are “by far” the best views yet.
The discovery also appears to confound existing theories of star and planetary formation, which suggest it should not be possible to form Jupiter-sized objects through the process that gives rise to stars inside the clouds of dust and gas found in a nebula.
The JuMBOs are about one million years old — babies in astronomical terms — and have infernal surface temperatures of roughly 1,000 degree centigrade. Without a host star, they will rapidly cool and will briefly feature temperatures in the range of habitability before becoming incredibly cold. However, as gas giants, their surfaces would not harbour liquid water, which means they are not likely to be hosting life.
“There’s something wrong with either our understanding of planet formation, star formation — or both,” said Samuel Pearson, a scientist at the European Space Agency.
The ESA team has given two possible origin explanations for these massive objects. The first one is that these objects grew out of regions in the Nebula where the density of material was insufficient to make fully-fledged stars. The second possibility is that they are planets that formed around stars but were eventually “kicked out” due to gravitational interactions.
Daisy Hips is a science communicator who brings the wonders of the natural world to readers. Her articles explore breakthroughs in various scientific disciplines, from space exploration to environmental conservation. Daisy is also an advocate for science education and enjoys stargazing in her spare time.