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Astonishing Discovery: A Planet with Four-Sun System

Oct 16, 2012 08:21 AM EDT
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PH1 planetary system
A family portrait of the PH1 planetary system: The newly discovered planet is depicted in this artist’s rendition transiting the larger of the two eclipsing stars it orbits. Off in the distance, well beyond the planet orbit, resides a second pair of stars bound to the planetary system.
(Photo : Haven Giguere/Yale)

Astronomers have discovered a planet surrounded by four suns for the first time. The planet named as PH1 is orbiting two suns and is being orbited by a distant pair of stars.

The four star solar system is the first of its kind discovered as part of the Planet Hunters project led by Yale University. The project involves amateur astronauts and professional scientists working together to find evidence of new planets based on data collected by NASA's Kepler space telescope.

Two volunteers Kian Jek of San Francisco and Robert Gagliano of Cottonwood, Arizona spotted "faint dips in light that was caused by the planet as it passed in front of its parent stars."

So far, planets orbiting two stars have been discovered by astronomers. These planets are called as circumbinary planets (like the Tatooine of Star Wars). This is the first time astronomers have found a planet orbiting within a quadruple star system named KIC 4862625.

"Circumbinary planets are the extremes of planet formation," Meg Schwamb of Yale, lead author of the paper about the planetary system, said in a statement.

"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."

PH1 is thought to be a gas giant planet that is slightly larger than Neptune and is six times the radius of Earth. It is located around 5,000 light-years away. The planet takes 138 days to complete a single orbit around its two parent stars or the suns. The parent stars which are 1.5 and 0.41 times the mass of the sun orbit each other every 20 days.

The second pair of stars orbits the planetary system at about 1000 astronomical units (around 1000 times the distance between Earth and the sun).

Researchers estimated that the temperature of the planet could reach a maximum of 644 degrees Fahrenheit, which means that the planet is too hot to be habitable, reported Space.com.

The findings of the paper were presented Oct. 15 at the annual meeting of the Division for Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Society in Reno, Nevada.

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