The moon might have once been part of earth…. yawn. -But somewhere in that nowhere above our heads, there is a place that has not one but 4 giant burning balls of gas? Now, we’re talkin.
And we thought Tattooine was cool (anti-pun?) for having 2 suns. Psh. This real-life location in our own galaxy far far away has FOUR (4) suns – and 3 of them orbit the big’un.
The planet, located about 5,000 light years from Earth, has been dubbed PH1 in honor of Planet Hunters, a program led by Yale University in the United States which enlists volunteers to look for signs of new planets, AFP reports.
PH1 is orbiting two suns, and in turn is orbited by a second distant pair of stars. Only six planets are known to orbit two stars, researchers say, and none of those is orbited by other distant stars.
“Circumbinary planets are the extremes of planet formation,” said Yale’s Meg Schwamb, lead author of a paper presented yesterday at the annual meeting of the Division for Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Society in Nevada.
“The discovery of these systems is forcing us to go back to the drawing board to understand how such planets can assemble and evolve in these dynamically challenging environments.’’
US citizen scientists and Planet Hunters participants Kian Jek and Robert Gagliano were the first to identify PH1. Their observations were then confirmed by a team of US and British researchers working in Hawaii.
PH1 is a gas giant with a radius about 6.2 times that of Earth, making it a bit bigger than Neptune. It orbits a pair of eclipsing stars that are 1.5 and 0.41 times the mass of the Sun roughly every 138 days.
The two other stars are orbiting the planetary system at a distance that is roughly 1,000 times the distance between Earth and the Sun.
UPDATE: Check out the extent to how lame and unoriginal my Tattoine reference is by clicking this Google search displaying all the other sources who made the same ref… derp.