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Runaway Planets Zoom at a Fraction of Light Speed

Thanks to Alan4discussion for the link


Seven years ago, astronomers boggled when they found the first runaway star flying out of our galaxy at a speed of 1.5 million miles per hour. The discovery intrigued theorists, who wondered: If a star can get tossed outward at such an extreme velocity, could the same thing happen to planets?

New research shows that the answer is yes. Not only do runaway planets exist, but some of them zoom through space at a few percent of the speed of light -- up to 30 million miles per hour.

"These warp-speed planets would be some of the fastest objects in our galaxy. If you lived on one of them, you'd be in for a wild ride from the center of the galaxy to the Universe at large," said astrophysicist Avi Loeb of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

"Other than subatomic particles, I don't know of anything leaving our galaxy as fast as these runaway planets," added lead author Idan Ginsburg of Dartmouth College.

Such speedy worlds, called hypervelocity planets, are produced in the same way as hypervelocity stars. A double-star system wanders too close to the supermassive black hole at the galactic center. Strong gravitational forces rip the stars from each other, sending one away at high speed while the other is captured into orbit around the black hole.

For this study, the researchers simulated what would happen if each star had a planet or two orbiting nearby. They found that the star ejected outward could carry its planets along for the ride. The second star, as it's captured by the black hole, could have its planets torn away and flung into the icy blackness of interstellar space at tremendous speeds.

Read on

TAGGED: SCIENCE, SPACE


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