Artist's impression. Credit: NASA/JPL

Astronomers just found a stable planet in a triple-star system

That’s a lot of sunsets.

JOSH HRALA
2 APR 2016
 

While we sit here on Earth looking up in wonder at how awesome our star, the Sun, is, astronomers have just found a stable planet inside a triple-star system that makes our Solar System seem rather boring. 

The newly found planet, dubbed KELT-4Ab, is only the fourth triple-star planet ever found, but what does triple-star actually mean? Well, in short, if you were to stand on the planet’s surface (which you can’t because it’s a gas giant) you’d look up to see one very large star that the planet is orbiting and then two other, smaller stars that shine about as bright as the Moon. It’d certainly be a fantastic sight seemingly ripped straight from a sci-fi film.

 

Though researchers have known about the KELT system for a while now, they used to think it contained only a single star. Then, with further research, they upped it to a binary system. Now, they’ve upped it yet again to a triple-star system.

The current understanding of the system states that there are three stars: KELT-A, KELT-B and, you probably guessed it, KELT-C. 

KELT-4Ab, the planet, orbits KELT-A about once every three days. Meanwhile, KELT-B and KELT-C orbit each other once every 30 years or so, and lie far away from KELT-4Ab.

Since these stars are further off, they don’t shine super-bright. Instead, the researchers from the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics say they shine about as bright as the Moon. 

To study the system, the team used the Kilodegree Extremely Little Telescope (KELT), a pair of two robotically controlled telescopes.

Though they have successfully identified the system and KELT-4Ab, the astronomers are still baffled as to how the gas giant, which is about the same size as Jupiter, orbits KELT-A so closely. The team hopes to investigate this next.

You can read the team’s full report in The Astronomical Journal. 

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