Startling Find Made in Bizarre Star System

Studies see evidence of a planet forming in GW Orionis
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 9, 2020 6:50 PM CDT
Rare Planet Might Lurk in 3-Star Solar System
The GW Orionis star system.   (ESO/Exeter/Kraus et al., ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO))

Tatooine, eat your heart out: Scientists may have spotted the first known planet orbiting three suns, LiveScience reports. The rare triple-star system, GW Orionis, had already been observed roughly 1,300 light-years from Earth. Now two new studies say there could be a fledgling planet in one of its three dust rings. "We are looking at what could eventually become an unusual type of planetary system in the very process of forming," study co-author Alison Young tells What stands out is the odd behavior of the system's rings. Unlike our solar system, none of the rings align with the stars' orbit, and the innermost ring is badly misaligned with the other two, sticking out of their plane like a wonky gyroscope.

Scientists say the three stars are tearing the ring apart. "There have been a number of theoretical studies on disk-tearing effects, but this is the first direct evidence of effect occurring in a planet-forming disk," says Young. But the star's gravitational pull isn't enough to explain the disk's ill-fated alignment: "We think that the presence of a planet between these rings is needed to explain why the disk was torn apart," Nienke van der Marel, co-author of the other study, says in a press release. "This planet has likely carved a dust gap and broken the disk at the location of the current inner and outer rings." But the planet hasn't actually been seen—and sadly it's too far from the stars to host life, so no Luke Skywalker will be gazing out at its three suns. (More astronomy stories.)

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