Planet or Star? Either Way, This Rogue Object Is Really Weird

Artist impression of the object called SIMP0136.
Image: Caltech/Chuck Carter; NRAO/AUI/NSF

Various news outlets have been discussing a strange object in space, which may or may not be a planet. New measurements show that what was thought to be a brown dwarf—essentially a “failed star” that is too small to generate nuclear fusion, but too big to be a planet—might be a planet after all. But that’s far from the strangest part of this story.

Scientists recently took another look at four nearby brown dwarfs, as well as this strange object, which is located only 20 light-years from Earth. The new observation demonstrated that the weird object actually straddles the boundary between planet and brown dwarf. That’s cool, but even more perplexing is how all five of these objects ended up with their intense magnetic fields.