Astronomers have discovered a new planet that technically shouldn’t exist. The newly found world comes complete with four suns, the gravity of which should, in theory, rip it apart. Six times larger than Earth, this world is a “gas giant,” like Jupiter and Saturn, that is comparable to Neptune in size. While it orbits two stars, another two circle the planet itself.
“All four stars pulling on it creates a very complicated environment,” says the University of Oxford’s Dr. Chris Lintott, talking to the BBC. He added, “Yet there it sits in an apparently stable orbit.”
“You don’t have to go back too far before you would have got really good odds against one of these systems existing.”
Kian Jek and Robert Gagliano, volunteers from Planethunters.org, along with teams in the US and UK, and follow-up from Keck Observatory, are responsible for this find. Five thousand light years away, the new discovery has been dubbed PH1, in a tip of the hat to the website.
Binary star systems, while not common, are not unheard of either. There are six known planets that exist around double stars and get along just fine. Though there are similar set-ups, there are no identified structures with additional stars orbiting around the planet.
Lintott calls the discovery both “confusing” and “unexpetected,” but also a lot of fun. He adds, “I think what this is telling us is planets can form in the inner parts of protoplanetary discs (the torus of dense gas that gives rise to planetary systems).”
“The planets are forming close in and are able to cling to a stable orbit there. That probably has implications for how planets form elsewhere.”