Rogue Planet sounds like a great title for a science fiction movie, doesn’t it? But in the astronomy community a rogue planet is a planet drifting through the galaxy without a sun of its own to orbit, and a team using the Canada France Hawaii Telescope on Hawaii's Mauna Kea and the Very Large Telescope in Chile has just found one. They searched an area of the sky with hundreds of millions of stars and came up with only one candidate they believe is a homeless planet. It’s about a hundred light years away from us (so it’s not a danger—don’t worry). What scientists don’t know is whether it formed out in the void from interstellar debris and dust, as stars do (but couldn’t get a light), or if it was somehow torn away from the solar system where it originally belonged.
This is where the science fiction writer in me kicks in.
Some may remember the 70’s TV show Space 1999 in which nuclear waste stored on the Moon explodes and sends the Moon hurtling off through space, carrying the crew of Moonbase Alpha with it. In essence, the Moon becomes a spaceship for interstellar travellers (never mind that it would take centuries to get anywhere).
Flash back to the rogue planet: What if a very advanced race discovered that its sun had become unstable and was going to go supernova in the foreseeable future? What options would they have? They could evacuate their solar system in giant craft like space versions of Noah’s Ark, but they’d have to have a new home in mind: somewhere far enough to escape the effects of the exploding star, but not too far—human beings and animals aren’t meant to live out our lives in metal cans. Or, presuming they’ve harnessed nuclear fusion and mastered the manipulation of protective energy fields, they could escape in the biggest spaceship of all: their home planet. No need to immediately cull the population or somehow select those who deserve to survive. Just pull up stakes and head for the stars.
Naturally, it’s not that simple, but is the technology inconceivable? No.
So maybe we’ll encounter such a planet when we venture out into deep space, or maybe one will come calling on us. After so long in the cold void, how would they react to feeling the warmth of a real sun for the first time? Maybe like Canadians in the Springtime!