Scientists Discover Exoplanet With Three Suns Nearly 320 Light Years Away

new-exoplanet-3-suns-discovered

Don’t forget the sunscreen on planet HD 131399Ab: It has three suns.

The far-off planet, located about 320 light years from Earth in the constellation Centaurus, is unlike any other known world, scientists say.

Anyone on the planet — if it harbored life, which scientists don’t think is possible — would either experience constant daylight or enjoy triple sunrises and sunsets each day, depending on the season, which last longer than human lifetimes.

The orbit of the 16-million-year-old planet is by far the widest known path within a multi-star system. And, surprisingly, it’s quite stable, scientists announced in a study published Thursday in the journal Science.

Typically, the complex gravitational attractions from other suns in such a system render the orbit unstable, meaning the planet could be ejected from its path.

“We were surprised to find the planet in an orbit so long that it could be influenced by all three stars,” said astronomer Daniel Apai of the University of Arizona and one of the study co-authors.

The planet takes around 600 years to orbit its main sun. Since the planet was discovered about a year ago, astronomers have only seen a tiny fraction of its elliptical orbit. Apai said scientists’ best guess is that the planet mainly orbits the most massive and brightest star in the system, labeled star A.

“In the few other systems where planets and multiple stars co-exist, the planets have usually been seen very close to one star and very far from the other, therefore the planet’s orbit was always dominated by one star,” Apai said.

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SOURCE: USA Today, Doyle Rice