An anonymous reader writes "Ian O'Neill suggests in an opinion piece at Al Jazeera that brown dwarves and nomad planets (planets not orbiting any star) could be a much needed stepping stone on our way to foreign stars. Quoting the article: 'In February, a fascinating paper was published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society detailing calculations on how many "nomad planets" the Milky Way must contain after estimating our galaxy's mass from how much gravity it exerts on surrounding space. Scientists from the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology (KIPAC) had uncovered something surprising — there are likely many more planets in the Milky Way than stars. ... Louis Strigari and his Kavli team calculated that there must be 100,000 planets for every star in the Milky Way (PDF). That's a lot of planets! But how can this be? Every star can't have tens of thousands of planets ranging from Pluto-sized to Jupiter-sized. This planetary "excess" actually suggests the existence of planets that were born without a star — nomad planets. ... we need all the help we can get if we are to venture to another star, so these ultracool brown dwarfs could become much-needed "stepping stones" for future starships to refuel on their light-years of journey time. There may be the possibility that these sub-stellar objects may even become more desirable targets for interstellar travellers. After all, there may be dozens of these invisible objects between here and Proxima just waiting to be uncovered by the sophisticated infrared telescopes of the future; they'd certainly make for more accessible scientific curiosities.'"
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