Rogue Planets

There are rogue or nomadic planets wandering through the Milky Way Galaxy without being attached to the tether of a sun.  There also are planets attached to the Sagittarius Dwarf Galaxy moving through our galaxy, so it is possible that one of these planets could wander into our solar system.

You may not know it, but our galaxy is colliding with the Sagittarius galaxy right now.   Galaxy collisions are very common in our universe, but the stars in each galaxy are so far apart that collisions between stars are very rare.  Our galaxy and the Andromeda Galaxy will collide in about 4 billion years.

It is possible that these giant galaxies, Milky Way and Andromeda, passed close to each other about 10 billion years ago.  The force of gravity on each other probably caused the galaxies to bend out of shape.  This interaction may have had a significant impact on the development of our solar system.  Some scientists speculate that this interaction could have created some of the stars in our galaxy.  Gravity from the neighboring galaxy could have compressed gas clouds, causing them to collapse and to ignite, forming new stars.

On December 24th on the night before Christmas, Venus was setting in the west while Jupiter was rising in the east, creating a bookend effect with our brightest planets sitting opposite from each other near the horizons.  If you were in the plains or in a level area, you could see both of them from dusk to about one hour after dusk.

The full moon is the brightest night object with about a 13 magnitude, while Venus, the brightest planet, is about one-third of that brightness at about 4.6.  Mars and Jupiter have about the same magnitude, about 2.7.  

At 11:00 am on December 24th a planet with a magnitude of somewhere between the moon and Venus, about a 6, was about 60 degrees in elevation in the eastern sky.  It was as bright as the landing lights from an airplane. 

All indications are that it is Jupiter, but its magnitude seems to be unusually high for Jupiter, which is usually about half this brightness.  However, if you follow a line from Rigel to Betelgeuse in the constellation Orion, it takes you to this planet, which must be Jupiter.  Its analemma travels go through the Gemini constellation just to the right of Castor and Pollux.  Typically, Jupiter travels from the east to the north and then will do a retrograde motion back to the east, creating a crunched “z” in its pattern.  I will continue to monitor this throughout 2014.  

When I examined it with a telescope, it appeared to have large craters similar to the moon, which could be Jupiter’s circular storms, one of which is the giant Red Spot.  But I did not see the traditional stripes around the planet.  Its relative size to our moon with the naked eye at this distance was about 1 to 20. 

It had at least one moon circling it at an unbelievable speed.  I timed it and it took only several minutes for its moon to circle the planet.  The only other possibility was that it had two moons in the same general orbit.  Again, it has to be Jupiter because that planet has four large moons, while Venus has none.  Venus also is in the western quadrant, so we can rule out Venus.

So, my conclusion is that it must be Jupiter, although I still have many questions: (1) why is Jupiter brighter than normal, (2) why does Jupiter appear to have craters without its traditional striping pattern, and (3) why does its moon circle the planet so quickly?

On the next night, January 12, 2014, Jupiter sat low at about 20 degrees elevation, moving to about 30 degrees and located in the east of northeast section at sunset.  The only two objects I could see in the early dusk were the moon and this planet.  I watched the landing lights of an airplane, which looked identical to the magnitude of this planet’s light.  Castor and Pollux were to its north (left) and Rigel and Betelgeuse were south (right) of it.  So, it must be Jupiter with an unusual high magnitude.

On February 15, 2014, at about 11:00 pm, the sky was very cloudy so that there were only two visible objects in the sky.  One, of course, was the moon, which barely could be seen.  The other, interestingly enough, was the overhead light of a planet breaking through the thick cloud cover.  I found this to be very unusual that a planet’s light was so bright that it could penetrate the heavy snow clouds.

On February 17, 2014, at about 11:00 pm, the sky was very cloudy so that there was only one visible object in the sky.  It was not the moon.  Believe it or not, it was the light of the planet coming through the pea soup.