Astronomers May Have Discovered First World to Orbit Three Stars

Potential discovery of a circumtriple planet has implications regarding bolstering our understanding of planet formation.

In a distant superstar system — a mere 1, 300 light years far from Earth — UNLV experts and colleagues may have identified the first known planet to orbit three stars.

Unlike our solar system, which consists of a solitary star, it is thought that half of all star systems, like GW Ori where astronomers observed the particular novel phenomenon, consist of several stars that are gravitationally bound to each other.

But no planet orbiting 3 stars — a circumptriple orbit — has ever been discovered. Perhaps until now.


Using observations from the powerful Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) telescope, UNLV astronomers analyzed three observed dust rings across the three stars, which are important to forming planets.

But they found a strong, yet puzzling, gap in the circumtriple disc.

The research team investigated different origins, including the possibility that the gap was created by gravitational torque from the three superstars. But after constructing an extensive model of GW Ori, they will found that the more likely, and fascinating, explanation for the room in the disc is the presence of one or more massive planets, Jupiter-like in nature. Gasoline giants, according to Jeremy Smallwood, lead author and a recent Ph. D. graduate within astronomy from UNLV, are usually the first planets to form within a star system. Terrestrial planets like Earth and Mars follow.

The entire world itself cannot be seen, however the finding — highlighted in a September study in the  Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society   — suggests that this is the first circumtriple planet actually discovered. Further observations from your ALMA telescope are expected in the coming months, which could offer direct evidence of the phenomenon.

“ It’s really exciting because it makes the concept of planet formation actually robust, ” Smallwood stated. “ It could mean that planet formation is much more active compared to we thought, which is quite cool. ”

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