Feeds

Planetary three-sun baffles boffins

It shouldn't happen to an astrophysicist

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Intelligent flash storage arrays

A Caltech researcher has identified a planet that has three suns. We wondered immediately if it was in a galaxy far, far away, but sadly for headline writers everywhere, the four-body system lies a mere 149 light-years hence, well within our own Milky Way.

The system, known as HD 188753, is located in the constellation Cygnus. The planet, whose existence was indirectly determined by measuring tiny Doppler shifts in the spectra of the stars, is thought to be slightly larger than Jupiter.

A relatively large central star holds court. The planet orbits just eight million kilometres away from it, whipping around roughly once every 80 hours. Further out, at about the distance from our Sun to Saturn, the other two stars are locked in a binary orbit of each other, and whirl around the main stellar body.

It transpires that in this region of our galaxy, binary and multiple star systems are more common than singletons like our Sun. But the presence of a planet in this triple system has foxed astronomers, causing some to suggest that we need to rethink theories of planetary formation.

Author of the research, Caltech's Dr Maciej Konacki, said that working out how a planet formed in this setting was "very puzzling". What is agreed on is that the planet is unlikely to have formed in the "normal" (as we understand it) way. Conventional theories of planet formation hold that gas giants form far away from their star, with gases coalescing around an icy core.

Astronomers speculate that some then migrate inwards, dragged by the remaining material in the accretion disk around the star. This would account for the many gas giants discovered in very close orbits around their stars.

But in this system, the two smaller stars orbit in exactly the gas giant-forming zone, and would have demolished any potential planet-forming material.

Dr. Konacki suggests that it might be better to think of the planet as a failed fourth star that just didn't have the mass needed to get going.

Meanwhile, Artie Hatzes, an astronomer at the Thuringia State Observatory in Germany told Nature.com: "You shouldn't see it, but you do see it. Maybe nature found a way."

Konacki's paper is published in the current issue of Nature. ®

Related stories

Astronomers spot fun-sized solar system
Jupiter and Saturn: chalk and cheese
Smudgy blur is an exoplanet
Exoplanet 'more likely to be brown dwarf'

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

More from The Register

next story
GRAV WAVE DRAMA: 'Big Bang echo' may have been grit on the scanner – boffins
Exit Planet Dust on faster-than-light expansion of universe
SpaceX Dragon cargo truck flies 3D printer to ISS: Clawdown in 3, 2...
Craft berths at space station with supplies, experiments, toys
That glass of water you just drank? It was OLDER than the SUN
One MEELLION years older. Some of it anyway
NASA rover Curiosity drills HOLE in MARS 'GOLF COURSE'
Joins 'traffic light' and perfect stony sphere on the Red Planet
Mine Bitcoins with PENCIL and PAPER
Forget Sudoku, crunch SHA-256 algos
Big dinosaur wowed females with its ENORMOUS HOOTER
That's right, Doris, I've got biggest snout in the prehistoric world
Japanese volcano eruption reportedly leaves 31 people presumed dead
Hopes fade of finding survivors on Mount Ontake
Canberra drone team dances a samba in Outback Challenge
CSIRO's 'missing bushwalker' found and watered
prev story

Whitepapers

A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Beginner's guide to SSL certificates
De-mystify the technology involved and give you the information you need to make the best decision when considering your online security options.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.