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article imageAstronomers find hypervelocity planets hurtling out of our galaxy

By Andrew Moran     Mar 24, 2012 in Science
Hanover - Imagine living on a planet that hurtles through the Milky Way galaxy 400 times faster than us. Think about what the night sky would look like as it becomes a gravitational slingshot. A new study shows that planets like this do exist.
Previous studies have shown that runaway stars do exist in our universe. A study from nearly a decade ago showed a star flying out of our Milky Way galaxy at 1.5 million miles per hour. This prompted scientists to see if the same thing could happen to planets.
Years later, researchers have concluded that runaway planets do exist and they are able to fly around in space at 30 million miles per hour (48 million kilometers), which is just a fraction of the speed of light – imagine what your night sky would look like if you inhabited one of these planets.
Why do these runaway planets, or hypervelocity planets, fling around in space like gravitational slingshots? According to scientists’ computer models, it is quite similar to hypervelocity stars in the sense that if a double-star system travels too close to a black hole and the gravitational forces rip the stars from each other; one would get shot away and the other is sucked into its orbit.
If the star that got shot away at high-speed had a planet or two then they would be carried along for the ride. The planet(s) that belong to the star that got caught in the orbit of a black hole would be torn away and lost in space.
Also, scientists can’t fathom anything other than subatomic particles (cosmic rays) leaving our galaxy as fast as these hyperspeed planets – they would eventually leave our galaxy and be part of interstellar travel.
“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 Avi Loeb, an astrophysicist for the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, in a press release. “Travel agencies advertising journeys on hypervelocity planets might appeal to particularly adventurous individuals.”
Will we be able to spot a hypervelocity planet? Due to our present primitive technology, scientists can’t because they are rare and distant, but astronomers are optimistic that they could discover a planet orbiting a hypervelocity star – it would have to be in a tight orbit, though.
“With one-in-two odds of seeing a transit, if a hypervelocity star had a planet, it makes a lot of sense to watch for them,” said Idan Ginsburg, lead author of the study at Dartmouth College.
More about hyperspeed planets, Idan Ginsburg, Milky way galaxy, Dartmouth College, hypervelocity star
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