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Astronomers discover exoplanet in quadruple star system

By Brooks Hays
Astronomers discover exoplanet in quadruple star system
An artist's conception of the four-sun planet. Photo by NASA/JPL

PASADENA, Calif., March 5 (UPI) -- Astronomers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory have, for only the second time in history, confirmed the existence of an exoplanet with four stars. But the discovery itself, scientists say, suggests planets in quadruple star systems may not be as rare as previously thought.

The alien world, KIC 4862625, is a gas giant, yellowish in color and roughly 10 times the size of Jupiter. There's likely no solid core to stand on, but if one were to look out at the cosmos from inside its atmosphere, one would see a small red sun and a white star-like glow.

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The red sun would be the exoplanet's home sun, the star around which it orbits. The white star, studied through a telescope, would be revealed to be two of the other four stars -- a pair of suns orbiting each other.

"It would depend on what kind of sky you had, but chances are that at least one of them would be up at any given time," Lewis Roberts, JPL astronomer, told the Los Angeles Times.

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What's known as the 30 Ari system was actually discovered several years ago, but until now, astronomers thought they were looking at one planet and three suns. New analysis has revealed a fourth, however.

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The home star of gas giant KIC 4862625 actually has a circling sibling competing for the exoplanet's orbital attention. The 30 Ari system, scientists now know, is a planet and two binary systems.

Located 136 light-years away in the constellation Aries, the 30 Ari system is proof that planet-hosting four-star systems are likely more common than previously thought. It also shows that competing gravities of multi-star systems seem to encourage the formation of much larger planets.

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"Star systems come in myriad forms. There can be single stars, binary stars, triple stars, even quintuple star systems," Roberts said in a press release. "It's amazing the way nature puts these things together."

The discovery of this gas giant's fourth sun was recently detailed in the journal Astronomical Journal.

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