We've heard of getting kicked out of a bar or a wedding, but kicked out of the solar system? Now that's just harsh, man. A recent report theorizes that a giant planet was ejected from our corner of the galaxy eons ago and may be out there ... somewhere.
It's an intriguing thought Hollywood screenwriters will likely attempt to pitch as the next sci-fi tentpole starring Ryan Gosling and Will Smith's kids. So did a massive heavenly body really take a hike 4 billion years ago? Perhaps.
In support of the claim, astronomers have found vast inconsistencies in planetary systems orbiting neighboring stars when compared to our own. Ours it a little too tidy for tastes, with these other examples exhibiting severe orbital inclines and wild elliptical paths, sending their foreign planets on a whiplash thrill ride around their native stars.
Astrophysicists and theoreticians have been challenged to create a planetary formation model that ends with our serene solar system without introducing radical new ideas.
Computer simulations by scientist David Nesvorny of the Southwest Research Institute in Colorado insist the model only works if you include the premise there was once a fifth gas giant in addition to Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune and Uranus. Nesvorny and his team postulate the existence of this jumbo sphere, dozens of times larger than Earth, that once resided at potential spots in the outer solar system between Saturn and Uranus. In a galactic cage fight for the ages, this orphaned planet was 86'd after an epic showdown with Jupiter.
Evidence of castaway planets drifting on the cosmic tides of our galaxy was confirmed in a 2006-2007 survey of the Milky Way. Ten dark objects were discovered cruising center stage before a backdrop of stars. Once the numbers are crunched, the conclusion is that there might be hundreds of billions of these wanderers inside the Milky Way.
After a rough game of planetary bumper cars during the Heavy Bombardment Period, only four titans remained. The spurned planet, now tens of thousands of light-years beyond, would presumably have a family of moons, kept warm by gravitational tidal forces, and could harbor colonies of microbes even in the unfathomable chill of outer space.
Think we'll see a return of the prodigal planet? Probably not. But we'll leave the light on just in case.
(via Discovery News)