Potential discovery of a circumtriple planet has implications for bolstering our understanding of planet formation.
In a distant star system — a mere 1,300 light years away from Earth — UNLV researchers and 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 star systems, like GW Ori where astronomers observed the novel phenomenon, consist of two or more stars that are gravitationally bound to each other.
But no planet orbiting three stars — a circumptriple orbit — has ever been discovered. Perhaps until now.
Using observations from the powerful Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMAThe Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) is the largest ground-based facility for observations in the millimeter/submillimeter regime in the world. ALMA comprises of 66 high-precision dish antennas of measuring either 12 meters across or 7 meters across and is an international partnership between Europe, the United States, Japan and the Republic of Chile. “>ALMA) telescope, UNLV astronomers analyzed the three observed dust rings around the three stars, which are critical to forming planets.
But they found a substantial, yet puzzling, gap in the circumtriple disc.
The research team investigated different origins, including the possibility that the gap was created by gravitational torque from the three stars. But after constructing a comprehensive model of GW Ori, they found that the more likely, and fascinating, explanation for the space in the disc is the presence of one or more massive planets, JupiterJupiter is the largest planet in the solar system and the fifth planet from the sun. It is a gas giant with a mass greater then all of the other planets combined. Its name comes from the Roman god Jupiter.”>Jupiter-like in nature. Gas giants, according to Jeremy Smallwood, lead author and a recent Ph.D. graduate in astronomy from UNLV, are usually the first planets to form within a star system. Terrestrial planets like Earth and MarsMars is the second smallest planet in our solar system and the fourth planet from the sun. Iron oxide is prevalent in Mars’ surface resulting in its reddish color and its nickname “The Red Planet.” Mars’ name comes from the Roman god of war.”>Mars follow.
The planet itself cannot be seen, but the finding — highlighted in a September study in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society — suggests that this is the first circumtriple planet ever discovered. Further observations from 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 planet formation really robust,” Smallwood said. “It could mean that planet formation is much more active than we thought, which is pretty cool.”
Reference: “GW Ori: circumtriple rings and planets” by Jeremy L Smallwood, Rebecca Nealon, Cheng Chen, Rebecca G Martin, Jiaqing Bi, Ruobing Dong and Christophe Pinte, 17 September 2021, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.