New images from the James Webb Space Telescope have revealed a previously unknown class of objects: Jupiter Mass Binary Objects (JuMBOs).  These are free-floating objects that orbit their common center of mass, not a star.  The existence of such objects challenges secular formation scenarios and provides new insight for creation research.


Planets, by definition, orbit a star.[1]  But there are objects of similar mass that drift freely through space and orbit nothing.[2]  These are called rogue planets or Planetary Mass Objects (PMOs).  They are much colder than stars and therefore do not emit significant light.  And since they are typically far from any star, they do not reflect much light either.  Therefore, they are very dark, and this makes them difficult to detect.

However, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is ideally suited for detecting PMOs in the local solar neighborhood.  This is due to the high-resolution of the JWST, its location outside Earth’s atmosphere, and its sensitivity to low-frequency wavelengths (infrared).  Many Planetary Mass Objects have a sufficiently high temperature to emit infrared radiation which the JWST can easily detect.  Recent JWST images of the Orion Nebula have revealed several hundred previously unknown PMOs ranging in mass from about 0.6 to 13 times the mass of Jupiter.[3]

Prior to 1992, the only planets we knew of were those in our own solar system.  Being both relatively close to the sun and close to Earth, the planets of our solar system shine by reflected sunlight.  We can see stars at much greater distances because they are millions to trillions of times brighter than planets. But with advances in technology, we can now detect increasingly fainter objects at great distances.

This led to the first confirmed detection of a brown dwarf in 1995.  We might think of a brown dwarf as something in between a planet and a star in terms of size and mass – essentially a much more massive version of Jupiter.  Brown dwarfs have insufficient pressure and temperature in their core to fuse ordinary hydrogen into helium – the power source for a star.  Thus, they are much cooler than a star.  But brown dwarfs do have sufficient core pressure to fuse deuterium – heavy hydrogen.  Since only a small fraction of hydrogen is deuterium, this provides a very meager power source, making brown dwarfs warmer than a planet would be under the same conditions.

An object less massive than about 13 times the mass of Jupiter would have insufficient mass to fuse even deuterium.  Thus, we see planets only when they reflect the light of their star.  But rogue planets do not orbit a star.  Therefore, we can only detect them by the very meager infrared radiation they emit.[4]  This makes them nearly impossible to detect with ground-based equipment.  But the JWST is suited for just this kind of research.

Astronomers recently discovered 540 PMO candidates in JWST images of the Orion Nebula.[5]  By analyzing the brightness of these in various narrowband filters, the researchers were able to establish a low-resolution spectrum for each.  These were consistent with the detection of molecules like H2O and methane.  This shows that these objects are genuine Planetary Mass Objects and not background stars because stars are far too hot to form substantial molecules like methane.  These are considered PMO candidates until higher resolution spectroscopy can confirm the presence of molecules.[6]

Binary Jupiters

Of particular interest, the researchers found that at least 9% of these PMOs were binary – two PMOs orbiting their common center of mass and separated by ~25 to 390 AU.[7]  The fraction may be even higher because JuMBOs with separations of less than 25 AU would not be distinguishable even with the JWST’s remarkable resolution.  The researchers also found two instances of triple PMO systems.

The existence of so many JuMBOs is inconsistent with the standard secular origins scenarios and “challenges current theories of both star and planet formation.”[8]  Secular astronomers believe that new stars and planets are forming even today.  They believe that brown dwarfs form in the same way they think stars do: from a collapsing cloud of gas.  Such a mechanism should not be able to form objects less than about 3 to 7 times the mass of Jupiter.[9],[10],[11].  However, these researchers found many PMOs much less massive than this limit.

Secularists believe that planets form by a different mechanism, but this requires a protoplanetary disk surrounding a star.  Thus, it cannot easily account for the existence of rogue planets, unless they were somehow ejected from their solar system.  But that would not explain why such a high percentage of these rogue planets are binary.  On the other hand, if these PMOs formed the way stars supposedly do, then the percentage of JuMBOs should be essentially zero according to secular models.

From a creation perspective there is no problem here.  The Lord created the stars and planets by His Word (Hebrews 11:3) and not natural processes.  Natural processes are simply the phrase we use to describe the way God normally upholds all that He has created.  We now know that God created many stars as binary pairs.  So, it is not surprising to now find that He also created some rogue planets also in pairs.  By studying these patterns, we learn more about the way God thinks.  And this allows us to see patterns in nature by which we can often predict what we will discover in the future.

That, really, is what science is all about.  The secularists have tried to turn science into naturalistic speculations about the past.  Such conjectures almost never make correct predictions about what we will discover because they are rooted in error.  It must be frustrating for secularists to constantly encounter data contrary to their predictions, forcing them to rethink their models (but apparently never their fallacious worldview).  On the other hand, the consistent Christian can enjoy these new discoveries and praise the Lord for His creativity.



[1] Remember that astronomers classify the sun as a star as well.  Until 1992 the only planets known to mankind were those that orbit the sun.


[2] With the exception that they gradually orbit around the center of mass of the galaxy.


[3] The mass estimates involve some secular assumptions and therefore should not be considered well determined.  However, the spectroscopic indications of substantial molecular bands show with high confidence that these are of planetary mass and well below the mass of a star.


[4] They have no new source of energy and have been gradually cooling, presumably since their creation.

[5] Pearson, S., and McCaughrean, M., Jupiter Mass Binary Objects in the Trapezium Cluster, astro-ph, arXiv:2310.01231v., Oct 2, 2023.


[6] The researchers were very thorough in their analysis.  I therefore have no doubt that most if not all of these candidates are indeed PMOs.


[7] An AU (Astronomical Unit) is defined as the average distance from Earth to the Sun – about 93 million miles.


[8] Pearson, S., and McCaughrean, M., Jupiter Mass Binary Objects in the Trapezium Cluster, astro-ph, arXiv:2310.01231v., Oct 2, 2023.


[9] Low, C., and Lynden-Bell, D., The Minimum Jeans Mass or When Fragmentation Must Stop, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society (1976) 176, 367-390.


[10] Boyd, D. and Whitworth, A., The minimum mass for opacity-limited fragmentation in turbulent cloud cores., Astronomy and Astrophysics, (2005) 430, 1059-1066.


[11] The exact lower limit will depend on the assumed model of formation, of course.  At present, there are roughly five main models that differ somewhat in the details.  All of them assume that stars form from a collapsing nebula.