Researchers wanting to know more about the influences of multiple stars on exoplanets have come up with a new case study—a planet in a four-star system.
The discovery was made at Palomar Observatory using two new adaptive optics technologies that compensate for the blurring effects of Earth’s atmosphere—the robotic Robo-AO adaptive optics system, developed under the leadership of Assistant Astronomer Christoph Baranec of the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa’s Institute for Astronomy, and the PALM-3000 extreme adaptive optics system, developed by a team at Caltech and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory that also included Baranec.
The new study, published in the Astronomical Journal, brings the number of known stars in the 30 Ari system from three to four. This discovery suggests that planets in quadruple star systems might be less rare than once thought.
Quadruple star system
The newfound four-star planetary system, called 30 Ari, is located 136 light-years away in the constellation Aries. The system’s gaseous planet is enormous, with 10 times the mass of Jupiter, and orbits its primary star every 335 days.
The fourth star, whose distance from the planet is 23 times the sun-Earth distance, does not appear to have impacted the orbit of the planet. The exact reason for this is uncertain, so the team is planning further observations to better understand the orbit of the newly discovered star and its complicated family dynamics.
In recent years, dozens of planetary systems with two or three host stars have been found, including those that would have twin sunsets reminiscent of the ones on the fictional Star Wars planet Tatooine.
Lead author Lewis Roberts, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and his colleagues want to understand the effects that multiple stars can have on their developing youthful planets. Evidence suggests that stellar companions can influence the fate of planets by changing the planets’ orbits and even triggering some to grow more massive.
New, more powerful Robo-AO on the horizon
“The discovery of this exciting system is only possible when we quickly scan through large numbers of potential targets,” said Baranec. “At the moment, Robo-AO is the only instrument that can give us the necessary combination of resolution and efficiency. Once we discover something interesting with Robo-AO, we can follow up with the ‘Formula 1’ systems, like PALM-3000 or the SCExAO system at the Subaru Telescope in Hawaiʻi, to obtain the absolute sharpest images possible.”
“Additionally, we’re planning to bring a new, more powerful Robo-AO system to the University of Hawaiʻi 2.2-m telescope to leverage the pristine skies of Maunakea, Hawaiʻi. We’ll use it for even larger surveys and follow-up observations of asteroids and supernovae discovered by ATLAS on Mauna Loa and Haleakala,” said Baranec.
For more, read the Institute for Astronomy news release.