The planet in question is a gas giant ten times the size of Jupiter, or a touch over one hundred times the size of Earth. The planet, located in the constellation Aries, is located 136 light-years away. While astronomers knew of the planet itself, the fact that its orbit went around four stars was recently discovered.
As such, it is only the second planet to ever be discovered to circle around a four-star system. The first planet was found in 2013, making this a new phenomenon in space exploration. Interestingly, that first planet was also unveiled by a citizen astronomer using public data released by NASA’s Kepler mission. Even amateur stargazing can lead to profound discoveries.
Four star systems offer an interesting view for anyone who has a chance to view them. Most often, there will be a central mass, the largest star, which serves as the “anchor” for the entire solar system. Around this, it is possible to have multiple stars orbiting around the massive star at the center. It is also possible to have a star orbiting an outer star, both of which are orbiting the massive inner star.
While this may seem complicated, astronomers believe that it is more common than the physics would show. What seems to be difficult, with the exception of this current find, is locating planets orbiting these multi-star systems.
The source of these findings are at the Palomar Observatory, located in California. The lab used a combination of adaptive optic systems, respectively called the ROBO-AO and the PALM-3000. These types of telescopes specialize in removing the distortion that is caused by the Earth’s atmosphere. Think of them as wearing a very high-tech set of sunglasses that removes the fog on a particularly dense afternoon.
This is all great news for astronomers, as it allows them to revamp their previous assumptions about multiple star systems.
“About four per cent of solar-type stars are in quadruple systems, which is up from previous estimates because observational techniques are steadily improving,” said Andrei Tokovinin of the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile.
Unfortunately, due to the extreme nature of a multi-star system, astronomers claim that it is unlikely that this planet could sustain life. You will have to shelve your Star Wars fantasies until the next big discovery, which should not be too far off.