What is love, if not braving the tempest of existence by someone’s side? Recently, astronomers at the University of Hawaii found a couple of “planetary mass objects” doing just this—waltzing through the final frontier, locked in each other’s embrace. Oddly enough, the star-crossed lovers don’t actually orbit a star at all—just each other.
Using instruments at the W. M. Keck observatory, astronomer William Best and his team first observed an unusually red, low-gravity L7 dwarf called 2MASS J11193254–1137466 in November 2016. So called “brown dwarfs” like this are particularly interesting, their mass being somewhere between that of the heaviest gas giant planets (e.g. Jupiter) and the lightest hydrogen-fusing stars. Since they don’t fuse hydrogen, they’ve been called “failed stars,” which is harsh but fair.
But, just this past March, the researchers revisited the object, only to find that—surprise!—it’s been two objects all along, both technically in the gray area between planets and stars. The pair resides in a group of 30 young stars about 50 parsecs from Earth known as the TW Hydrae Assocation, which sounds very exclusive.
The planetary pair is not gravitationally tethered to a star, so they wander around the Milky Way solo—according to a blog post by AAS Nova, it’s the lowest-mass binary pair astronomers have ever discovered. Such wandering objects are called “rogue planets,” because, well, obviously. Some astronomers believe the much sought-after Planet 9 could have been a rogue planet in its early life, but then our Sun snatched it away.
Each of the objects is only ~3.7 Jupiter masses, so they’re not the biggest or most impressive planetary objects—no offense. Still a good love story, though.