Astronomers may have discovered the first known planet in 3-star orbit

The potential discovery of a circumnavigating planet has implications for strengthening our understanding of the formation of the planet.

In a distant star system, just 1,300 light-years from Earth, researchers and UNLV colleagues may have identified the first known planet to orbit three stars.

Unlike our solar system, which consists of a solitary star, it is believed that half of all stellar systems, such as GW Ori, where astronomers observed the new phenomenon, consist of two or more stars that are gravitationally bound. Between them.

But no planet has ever been discovered orbiting around three stars (a circumptriple orbit). Maybe until now.

GW Orionis

An image of GW Orionis, a three-star system with a mysterious gap in its surrounding dust rings. UNLV astronomers hypothesize the presence of a massive planet in the gap, which would be the first planet discovered in orbit around three stars. The left image, provided by the Atacama Large Millimeter / Submillimeter Array (ALMA) telescope, shows the ringed structure of the disk, with the innermost ring separated from the rest of the disk. The observations in the correct image show the shadow of the innermost ring of the rest of the disk. UNLV astronomers used observations from ALMA to construct a complete model of the stellar system. Credits: ALMA (ESO / NAOJ / NRAO), ESO / Exeter / Kraus et al.

Using observations from the powerful Atacama Large Millimeter / submillimeter Array, UNLV astronomers analyzed the three dust rings observed around the three stars, which are critical to forming planets.

But they found a substantial, but disconcerting, gap in the circumferential disk.

The research team investigated different origins, including the possibility that the gap was created by the gravitational pair of the three stars. But after building a complete model of GW Ori, they found that the most likely and fascinating explanation for disk space is the presence of one or more massive planets,

The planet itself cannot be seen, but the finding – highlighted in a September study in Monthly notices from the Royal Astronomical Society – suggests that this is the first circumnavigating planet ever discovered. New observations of the ALMA telescope are expected in the coming months, which could provide direct evidence of the phenomenon.

“It’s really exciting because it makes the theory of the formation of the planet really robust,” Smallwood said. “It could mean that planet formation is much more active than we thought, which is pretty cool.”

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