Do free-floating planets outnumber stars?

Artist's impression of planets in deep space.

Could there be untold billions of planets wandering free through space?

A FEW HUNDRED THOUSAND BILLION free-floating, life-bearing, Earth-size planets may exist in the space between stars in the Milky Way. So argues an international team of scientists led by Professor Chandra Wickramasinghe, Director of the Buckingham Centre for Astrobiology at the University of Buckingham, UK.

The scientists have proposed that these life-bearing planets originated in the early universe within a few million years of the Big Bang, and that they make up most of the so-called “missing mass” within galaxies.

The scientists have calculated that such a planetary body would cross through the inner Solar System every 25 million years on the average. They say that during each transit, interplanetary dust—including a component of the Solar System’s living cells—would become implanted at its surface.

The free-floating planet would then have the added property of mixing the products of local biological evolution on a galaxy-wide scale.

The team’s findings have been published online in the journal Astrophysics and Space Science.

Adapted from information issued by Springer. Image courtesy ESO.

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