Exoplanet May Be Orbiting Three Stars At The Same Time


Stars: If you’ve watched the Star Wars saga, you know Tatooine, the home planet of Anakin Skywalker and his son, Luke Skywalker. The celestial body, despite being a work of fiction, brings the real concept of a circumbinary planet, that is, one that orbits two stars at the same time. Astronomers now believe they’ve discovered the first planet with a circumtriple orbit — one that circles not two but three stars simultaneously. Although it has not been spotted, the evidence for its existence is compelling.

See an artistic simulation of the tristellar system:

The gigantic exoplanet would be located in the GW Ori star system, about 1,300 light-years from Earth. Composed of three stars, the system has two smaller stellar bodies in a closed binary orbit and, orbiting around them, a larger star. Surrounded by a lot of dust, the three stars create an image that resembles a target. Looking more closely at the trio, something caught the researchers’ attention.

In 2020, astronomers had published a study in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, in which they analyzed the GW Ori system with the help of the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) telescope in Chile. They found that its three dust rings were misaligned with each other, with the innermost ring, produced by the smaller star, “swaying wildly” in its orbit.

It was as if something had created a huge hole in the cloud of dust and gas that surrounds the system – about 15 billion kilometers in diameter – between the innermost ring and the other two. Some astronomers thought that the gap would have formed due to the gravity torque of the three stars, which “ripped” the disk, but after a series of calculations, the probability turned out to be small.


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