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NCSA Contributes to the Most Extensive Free-Floating Planet Collection To Date

A bright orange free-floating planet in space surrounded by bright stars and red and blue cosmic gases.

An artist's impression of a free-floating planet. Using observations and archival data from several of NSF's NOIRLab’s observatories, together with observations from telescopes around the world and in orbit, astronomers have discovered at least 70 new free-floating planets — planets that wander through space without a parent star — in a nearby region of the Milky Way known as Upper Scorpius OB stellar association. Credit: NOIRLab/NSF/AURA/J. da Silva

A group of astronomers using 80,000 wide-field images captured over 20 years of observations and data recently discovered the most extensive collection of free-floating planets – those without a parent star – in the Milky Way. 

The astronomers found more than 70 Jupiter-sized planets in the galaxy’s Upper Scorpius OB stellar association in this extensive data.

Among the assets and resources that contributed to the study’s success is the Dark Energy Camera. DECam, designed by the Dark Energy Survey, is one of the world’s highest-performance, wide-field CCD imagers (charge-coupled devices, similar to but much more sensitive than those in ordinary digital cameras). DES is a global collaboration including the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, the Department of Energy’s Fermilab, and the National Science Foundation’s NOIRLab, dedicated to revealing the nature of the mysterious dark energy that is accelerating the expansion of our Universe.

The team’s latest findings double the total number of free-floating planets known since their first detection in the ‘90s. These celestial bodies, also called nomadic or rogue planets, orbiting space without a parent star, emit virtually no light, making them extremely difficult to research.

Read more about this study in NOIRLab’s science feature here.


The Dark Energy Survey is a collaboration of more than 400 scientists from 25 institutions in seven countries.

Funding for the DES Projects has been provided by the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. National Science Foundation, the Ministry of Science and Education of Spain, the Science and Technology Facilities Council of the United Kingdom, the Higher Education Funding Council for England, the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the Kavli Institute of Cosmological Physics at the University of Chicago, Funding Authority for Funding and Projects in Brazil, Carlos Chagas Filho Foundation for Research Support of the State of Rio de Janeiro, Brazilian National Council for Scientific and Technological Development and the Ministry of Science and Technology, the German Research Foundation and the collaborating institutions in the Dark Energy Survey.


The National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign provides supercomputing, expertise, and advanced digital resources for the nation’s science enterprise. At NCSA, University of Illinois faculty, staff, students and collaborators from around the globe use these resources to address research challenges for the benefit of science and society. NCSA has been advancing many of the world’s industry giants for over 35 years by bringing industry, researchers and students together to solve grand challenges at rapid speed and scale.

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