Runaway Planets Travel Through Interstellar Space

New study finds that planets in tight orbits around stars that get ejected from our galaxy 

may actually themselves be tossed out of the Milky Way at blisteringly fast speeds of up to 30 million miles per hour, or a fraction of the speed of light. As said Avi Loeb, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass. these warp-speed planets would be some of the fastest objects in the galaxy, aside from photons and particles like cosmic rays. In 2005, astronomers found evidence of a runaway star that was flying out of the Milky Way galaxy at a speed of 1.5 million mph (2.4 million kph). This hypervelocity star was part of a double-star system that wandered too close to the supermassive black hole at the center of the galaxy. The strong gravitational pull at the galactic center ripped the stars apart, sending one hurtling through space at high speeds, while capturing the other to stay in orbit around the massive black hole. In the seven years since, 16 of these hypervelocity stars have been found, and Loeb and his colleagues began to wonder whether planets could also be sent tearing through space at such extreme velocities. The researchers created simulations that examined what would happen if each star had at least one planet orbiting nearby. They found that up to 10 percent of planets tightly orbiting one of the stars could stay bound as the star is flung outward. The other star that is captured by the black hole could also have its planet ripped away from it, and this planet would then be pitched into interstellar space at intensely fast speeds as well. A typical runaway planet would likely dash outward at 7 to 10 million mph (11.3 to 16.1 million kph), but given the right circumstances, a small fraction could have their speeds boosted to up to 30 million mph (48.3 million kph). As said Loeb these hypervelocity planets will escape the Milky Way and travel through interstellar space on a wild ride.