Astronomers Could Have Just Discovered A Planet Orbiting Three Stars

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A new study suggests that an exoplanet in the GW Ori star system might be orbiting three stars at once.

Astronomers found an intriguing star system early last year using the Atacama Large Millimetre/submillimetre Array (ALMA) and the Very Large Telescope (VLT) of the European Southern Observatory.

The GW Ori star system is located about 1,300 light-years away, close to the constellation Orion. In its center are not one, but three young stars.

An enormous disk of dust and gas surrounds the system, comparable to Saturn’s rings. The formation of new planets is aided by clouds of dust and gas surrounding young star systems.

There was, however, a mysterious gap between the disk gas and dust surrounding GW Ori, dividing it into two parts.

Until recently, this had puzzled astronomers, and previous research had attempted to explain the gap by saying that the gravitational torque from the three stars might have caused it.

As reported by the New York Times, now that researchers have looked at the GW Ori system in extreme detail, they think the reason behind the gap maybe even more surprising.

According to a paper published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, researchers from the University of Nevada say the gap is likely caused by planets forming in the gas cloud.

Probably the first circumtriple planet ever discovered would orbit three stars if the researchers are right.

A disk of gas and dust surrounds GW Ori. Image credit: ALMA/ESO

According to Jeremy Smallwood, lead author of the paper, and professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, the circumtriple planet maybe carving a gap in real-time.

Despite the fact that the planet (or planets) cannot be seen, researchers believe the formation of a giant gaseous planet could be the best explanation for the mysterious gap in the dust cloud. The astronomers are likely to have discovered an “infant” planet, which is only a few million years old and carving its own orbit.

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