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Space, Hardly Empty

If recent research is correct, the blackness between stars harbors more excitement than you could possibly comprehend.

star cluster

Photo: NASA and H. Richer (University of British Columbia)

There's a lot more here than meets the eye.

All A Clutter

When gazing into the sky on a clear night, it’s tempting to just focus on the lights and forget about all the dark things up there we can’t see. We tend to ignore the blackness.

This can lead to a relatively clean and tidy conception of the cosmos, one in which pristine vacuum reigns in the vast sweeps between star systems.

But this is wrong. In reality, space is suffused with all kinds of stuff.

Flyin’ Solo

Besides staggering quantities of anthropogenic debris orbiting around Earth, and besides the continuum of gas, rocks and dust stretching indefinitely beyond, there is a newly-discovered class of shadowy bodies inhabiting the interstellar medium.

Astronomers called them ‘rogue planets’. Though they might share many characteristics with a Mars or a Saturn — shape, size, composition and so on — they are not tethered to a center of gravity like our sun. They are free to roam.

Droves of Rogues

According to new research out of Stanford University, the Milky Way could be teeming with tens of quadrillions of these lonely bodies, ranging in scale from Pluto to bigger than Jupiter.

Not surprisingly, some in the scientific community have been unable to resist speculating that heat produced inside the cores of certain rogues could possibly be sufficient to sustain simple life forms.

Think about that when you look up tonight.

Read More:

  • Researchers say galaxy may swarm with ‘nomad planets’ (Physorg)
  • Planets that have no stars (Physorg)
  • Debris on Earth Devastating in Orbit (WSJ)
  • Space junk problem brought into public view (MSNBC)
Ben Alford

Ben Alford works in Indiana Public Media's online dimension and holds an M.A. from Indiana University Bloomington's History and Philosophy of Science department. When not vegetating in front of a computer screen or geeking out over a good book, he can be found outside exploring.

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