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Planet found orbiting three stars all at once

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How many stars can a planet successfully orbit? For a long time, we had only our own solar system to look to, as we were the only star we knew of with planets around it at all. It wasn’t until the 1990s that we found planets orbiting other star systems. Even though stars come in singlets, binaries, trinaries, and even greater numbers of multi-star systems, we’d only ever found stars orbiting one — or, at most, two — stars. Even in systems with three or more stars, planets have only been found orbiting one or two of the stars at once, with the other star(s) farther out.


There had been two main schools of thought as to why this was the case. One idea was that planets can orbit stars either closely, in which case their orbits are dominated by one central star (or a tight binary star) that supplies their gravity, or far away, as long as they’re far enough so that however many stars there are behave like a single mass. According to this idea, the only reason we hadn’t seen planets in wide orbits around trinary (or greater) systems was because it’s difficult to observe. But a rival idea is that wide planetary orbits around three or more stars would be fundamentally unstable, and gravitation would quickly kick out any such planets.


While this was contentious for a time, the mystery has been solved with the GW Orionis system: a still-forming trinary system now known to house planets of its own. For the first time, planets in orbit around all three stars in the system have been found, suggesting this is not only a possible configuration, but a common one. Here’s the story of what we’ve learned.


Move over, Tattooine, and instead feast your eyes on GW Orionis, where the largest dust rings ever seen settle an ancient exoplanet debate.




ALMA, in which ESO is a partner, and the SPHERE instrument on ESO's Very Large Telescope have imaged GW Orionis, a triple star system with a peculiar inner region. The new observations revealed that this object has a warped planet-forming disc with a misaligned ring. In particular, the SPHERE image (right panel) allowed astronomers to see, for the first time, the shadow that this ring casts on the rest of the disc. This helped them figure out the 3D shape of the ring and the overall disc. The left panel shows an artistic impression of the inner region of the disc, including the ring, which is based on the 3D shape reconstructed by the team. Credit: ESO/L. Calçada, Exeter/Kraus et al.





The video is obviously a 3D render but based on extremely accurate data which is why it looks so real. The further out image is real, the rest are data driven renders.  


Long story short, this is the first time a trinary star system with a planet orbiting around it has ever been seen. It's just lucky that it's also one we can get really cool pictures of. The existence of the planet is somewhat controversial because it has to exist but cannot be found. 


Normally when a star forms it will end up with an accretion disk of material orbiting it, and that is essentially the same here but because the accretion disk is orbiting a trinary star system instead of just one star, it ends up with this huge tilted wave that makes it look like something out of a sifi movie. 


As I understand it the planet has not been found but it has to exist based on the orbits. Presumably they can detect the effects of it's gravity. 

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I can't wait until space becomes so normal it's like a 22 hour ride to Mars, like flying around the world. I also hope that the stuff we find/see exceeds the vastness of created worlds we've seen in video games to date.  Man oh MAN I hope I can get a lift to space before I die.

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On 25/10/2021 at 07:47, GanjaSMK said:

I can't wait until space becomes so normal it's like a 22 hour ride to Mars, like flying around the world. I also hope that the stuff we find/see exceeds the vastness of created worlds we've seen in video games to date.  Man oh MAN I hope I can get a lift to space before I die.

As someone who grew up with such a fascination with space, I feel like I should have been born 100 years later.


But then again, we could wipe ourselves out by then. So who knows.

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