Scientists have determined that the weather forecast on PSO J318.5-22, a mysterious object that does not orbit any star but floats freely, is pretty extreme.
Based on data from the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope in Chile, researchers from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland have determined that the orphan world’s climate consists of thick clouds of hot dust and droplets of molten iron rain. Their study was published Oct. 30 in The Astrophysical Journal.
PSO J318.5-22, which is similar to a brown dwarf star and sits some 75 light-years from Earth, was discovered in 2013. The strange world is around the same size as Jupiter, but has roughly eight times the mass. The object is not massive enough to initiate nuclear fusion in its core like a star would so it glows feebly.
To observe the object, the researchers took hundreds of infrared images of PSO J318.55 over a period time.
The researchers analyzed different cloud patches, allowing them to determine weather patterns. They noted that this type of analysis would not have been possible had PSO J318.5-22 orbited a parent star, as most planets and similar objects do.
Scientists still aren’t sure why PSO J318.5-22 is isolated and free-floating in space, but there are two theories: PSO J318.5-22 may have formed as a planet around a star and got ejected from that system, or it formed in isolation, condensing out of a star-forming cloud, similar to how brown dwarfs form.