136 light years away in the constellation Aries lies a planetary system called 30 Ari. The system’s gas giant lives up to its name, with 10 times the mass of Jupiter. The discovery of this planet isn’t new, but the number of stars in the planetary system is.
Before, scientists thought the system was a triple star system. Scientists have now discovered a fourth star, a red dwarf.
This recent discovery is just the second time a planet has been identified in a quadruple star system. It also points to quadruple star systems being a bit less rare than scientists thought.
“About four percent of solar-type stars are in quadruple systems, which is up from previous estimates because observational techniques are steadily improving,” said co-author Andrei Tokovinin of the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile.
Planets with more than one star aren’t as rare as you might think. There are more binary stars in our galaxy than single stars. Planets like Star Wars’ Tatooine are more common than Earth.
The gaseous planet orbits its primary star every 335 days. The primary star also has a nearby partner star, but the planet doesn’t orbit that one. These two stars are locked in a long-distance orbit with another set of stars about 1,670 astronomical units away (an AU is the distance between Earth and the sun). The image below better illustrates how the orbits look.
As for life? Astronomers don’t think the planet or any possible moons could sustain life. But, if you could see the skies from the planet – you would see a small sun and two very bright stars visible during the daytime. If you had a strong enough telescope, you would see one of these very bright stars is a binary system.
Astronomers used instruments attached to telescopes at the Palomar Observatory in San Diego to spot the fourth star.
Image credits: NASA/JPL. Top image is an artist concept