Planet with four suns found in distant universe
It’s 5,000 light years away from Earth, but should you one day visit the newly discovered planted called PH1, don’t skimp on the sunblock.
An international team of amateur and professional astronomers Monday presented evidence of PH1 and its four suns – the first reported case of such a phenomenon.
PH1 is orbiting two suns, and in turn is orbited by a second distant pair of stars.
Only six planets are known to orbit two stars, researchers say, and none of those are orbited by other distant stars, according to Agence France-Presse.
The planet has been dubbed PH1 in honor of Planet Hunters, a program led by Yale University which enlists the public to review astronomical data from NASA’s Kepler spacecraft for signs of planet transits of distant stars, according to a press release issued by NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
“Circumbinary planets are the extremes of planet formation,” said Yale’s Meg Schwamb, lead author of a paper presented Monday at the annual meeting of the Division for Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Society in Nevada.
“The discovery of these systems is forcing us to go back to the drawing board to understand how such planets can assemble and evolve in these dynamically challenging environments,” she added.
A pair of Planet Hunters participants, Kian Jek and Robert Gagliano, were the first to identify PH1. Their observations were then confirmed by a team of US and British researchers working in Hawaii, the wire service reported.
PH1 is classified as a gas giant with a radius about 6.2 times that of Earth, making it a bit bigger than Neptune. It orbits a pair of eclipsing stars roughly every 138 days.
The two other stars are orbiting the planetary system at a distance that is roughly 1,000 times the distance between Earth and the Sun.
The Planethunters.org website was created in 2010 to encourage amateur astronomers to identify planets outside our solar system, using data from the US space agency NASA’s Kepler space telescope, according to Agence France-Presse.
Kepler was launched in March 2009 and is NASA’s first mission in search of Earth-like planets orbiting stars similar to our Sun.
The discovery of PH1 was made available online Monday at the site arxiv.org and has been submitted to the Astrophysical Journal for publication.
“It still continues to astonish me how we can detect, let alone glean so much information, about another planet thousands of light-years away just by studying the light from its parent star,” Jek said.