Planets orbit stars. Everyone knows that, but have you ever heard of a planet that orbits not two stars, but three? That’s exactly what astronomers have possibly just discovered, for the first time, occurring around a star just 1300 light years distant.
GW Orionis, a triple star system in the constellation of Orion “The Hunter” has a “mysterious gap” in its surrounding dust rings.
In a paper published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, researchers layout their hypothesis that there’s a massive Jupiter-like gas giant planet in that gap.
If it’s confirmed then it would be the first planet ever discovered to orbit three stars.
It’s thought that gas giant planets are the first to form around star, with rocky planets like Earth and Mars following.
“It’s really exciting because it makes the theory of planet formation really robust,” said lead author Jeremy Smallwood, a recent Ph.D. graduate in astronomy from the University of Las Vegas, Nevada. “It could mean that planet formation is much more active than we thought, which is pretty cool.”
Using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) radio telescope in Chile astronomers found three dust rings around GW Orionis with a prominent gap that they think may be caused by a massive planet—perhaps even or multiple planets.
However, the planet itself hasn’t yet been detected. Further observations from the ALMA telescope are expected in the coming months, which could provide direct evidence of the existence of the planet(s).
If you think star systems with multiple stars are weird and rare, think again.
In fact, it’s our Solar System with its one star is the odd one out. It’s thought that about 85% of stars are in binary systems, where two stars orbit a common center of mass. About 10% of stars are in triple or multiple star systems.
Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes.