Astronomers Find Extremely Rare Triple-Star System

Friday, 01 April 2016 - 3:48PM
Astronomy
Friday, 01 April 2016 - 3:48PM
Astronomers Find Extremely Rare Triple-Star System
Astronomers have just found a planet with an even cooler sunset than Tatooine. Researchers at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics have reported the discovery of KELT-4Ab, an "inflated Hot Jupiter" that stably orbits the brightest member of a three-star system.

This system had been known to astronomers prior to this study, but they had mistaken two stars that orbit each other for a single star. The revelation that the system actually has three stars rather than two makes KELT-4Ab only the fourth known planet to orbit within a three-star system, or a "hierarchical triple." This is also the closest triple-star system to Earth yet, with an unusually bright main star that will make the system very valuable for observation.

KELT-4Ab is an extremely hot planet that is very close to its sun, a star called KELT-A; scientists theorize that on this planet, KELT-A would appear 40 times larger than our Sun appears on Earth. The other two stars of the deceptive binary system are much further away and would appear much dimmer, approximately the same brightness as our Moon. KELT-4Ab has a much shorter year than Earth, as it takes approximately three days to orbit its sun, while the binary stars take approximately 30 years to orbit each other and a whopping four thousand years to orbit KELT-A. 

The discovery of this star system is not only interesting in itself, but may help scientists to understand the orbit of gas giants. Astronomers have been perplexed as to why gas giants outside of our solar system orbit much closer than Jupiter does to our Sun, and now that we've discovered KELT-4Ab so close to Earth, we may be able to determine what makes it different from Jupiter. Scientists theorize that the nearby binary star system somehow allows for the closer orbit, but further study is needed to confirm that hypothesis.
Science
Space
Astronomy

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