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Space Science

Amateur Planet Hunters Find First Planet In a Four-Star System 52

Posted by samzenpus
from the four-suns-are-better-than-one dept.
The Bad Astronomer writes "For the first time, a planet has been found in a stellar system composed of four stars. The planet, called PH-1, orbits a binary star made of two sun-like stars in a tight orbit. That binary is itself orbited by another binary pair much farther out. Even more amazing, this planet was found by two "citizen scientists", amateurs who participated in Planet Hunters, a project which puts Kepler Observatory data online for lay people to analyze. At least two confirmed planets have been found by this project, but this is the first — ever — in a quaternary system."
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Amateur Planet Hunters Find First Planet In a Four-Star System

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    Part of the Binar Star Cluster featured on Star Trek. Home of the Binars.

  • by GODISNOWHERE (2741453) on Monday October 15, 2012 @12:20PM (#41660005)
    Gillette sponsors a team of astronomers to find a planetary system of five stars. http://www.theonion.com/articles/fuck-everything-were-doing-five-blades,11056/ [theonion.com] [Link contains strong language that may be considered NSFW]
  • by Anonymous Coward
    But I was really planning on retiring on a 5 star solar system. The help really care about you in those places.
  • Obligatory (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 15, 2012 @12:23PM (#41660053)

    Picard : There...are...FOUR...lights!

  • Pretty surprising (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Grayhand (2610049) on Monday October 15, 2012 @12:32PM (#41660167)
    If planets can form with the gravitational forces of a dual binary system I have to believe virtually all suns have planets of some form. Stars tend to have left over material when they form and that tends to form planets. The more conditions they find that can support planets the more system candidates there are for planets.
    • by rossdee (243626)

      I think it depends a lot on how close the stars are together, and their relative masses.

      And getting a habitable planet would seem to be unlikely.

    • by gstoddart (321705) on Monday October 15, 2012 @12:56PM (#41660505) Homepage

      And it serves to consistently push up the values of some of the terms in Drake's equation.

      Back in the early 90's when I hung out with astronomers, the idea of finding exoplanets was still pretty new, and now it seems pretty commonplace.

      To me, even if it's not intelligent life we'll ever make contact with, the likelihood that life has evolved on other planets seems like it would pretty much be a near certainty -- to me it has always seemed improbable that only our planet in the arse end of a galaxy would have done so.

      Granted, the universe is a fairly hostile place that has lots of ways to wipe out a budding intelligent species. But the notion that we're singularly unique in terms of evolving life in all of that vastness seems improbable.

      • A thought experiment: I propose a modified form of the Drake equation that, for lack of a better name, I will call MozeeToby's Equation:

        First, add a term for the probability that a civilization will send out self replicating probes before it dies off. I refuse to believe this number is significantly low (that is, I refuse to believe that 1% of alien civilizations won't be curious enough to do so or die off before they are able). We are just nearing the technological ability to start this effort ourselves

        • Or, civilizations which advance to the point where they could send out self-replicating probes generally don't bother (or actively engage in policing and killing off the ones from those that do).

          It would only take a very small number of space travellers to significantly curtail the self-replicating probe population, and there's a pretty significant interest in doing so if there of the "replicate at all costs" sort. Otherwise, who's to say we simply missed them - the responsible probe builder would design hi

          • by Coisiche (2000870)

            Or, civilizations which advance to the point where they could send out self-replicating probes generally don't bother

            As if. Their economic system concentrates the wealth among a smaller and smaller group of individuals whose only interest is to increase their own personal wealth, and self-replicating probes launched into space don't have a R.O.I.

        • by gstoddart (321705)

          I'm going to assume you're mostly joking or trying to prove something by absurdity, but I have no idea of what it is.

          All I'm saying is given the rate at which we find out more about how complex and varied the universe is ... I find it hard to believe that there isn't some Bladarian Moon Slug out there somewhere or at least some form of multi-cellular life. It doesn't need to be intelligent. It doesn't even need to be close. We don't even need to ever encounter it.

          But the initial assumptions were that the

          • Drake's equation involves terms like "civilization" and "intelligent". "Some form of pond scum" is a whole 'nuther ball of wax.

            IMO, the notion that more exoplanets means more certainty that intelligent life exists somewhere is specious. The total lack of evidence found amidst this abundance of opportunity suggests to me that the evolution of life of any kind is, in fact, exceedingly rare (perhaps a single event).

            This is what MozeeToby's equation seems to be getting at.

      • by Shadowmist (57488)

        And it serves to consistently push up the values of some of the terms in Drake's equation.

        Unfortunately it's more than matched by the things that are pushing down the numbers in Drake's equation, such that the majority of exoplanets we've discovered show evidence of violent rearrangement of the solar system, especially in the case of Hot Jupiters, which are gas giants that have moved into orbits much closer than they could have formed in. Such rearrangement could spell doom for the rocky inner planets by majorly disrupting their orbits. The other factors are what seem to be the narrow set

    • by Anonymous Coward

      It's not a question of material it's a question of gravitational forces eventually pulling the planet into a star or throwing it out into space. There must be a balance there somewhere.

    • by Anonymous Coward
      This still fits with what is expected for planetary formation. The fact that the binary stars are close together means they look like a single gravitational body far enough away, and that one pair is orbiting far away means it is on part with just a distance planet. If you had a system where the stars were more evenly spread out, and stars of similar mass, then it would be more interesting to see if planets form. In this case, you have one nearly central star, a second one orbiting it at a quarter the ma
  • I skimmed through the whole paper, and didn't see one overview diagram to show the shape of this thing's orbit. Haven't really gotten a grip even on how 4 stars orbit around each other - is it two binary systems circling a common centre? Then where do you put a planet in... orbiting in a wide circle around the outside of the stars, figure-8ing between two pairs of stars, some elaborate knot weaving in and out around all 4?

    If anyone has a better handle on this than I do, a clear description would serve jus

    • by egamma (572162)

      I skimmed through the whole paper, and didn't see one overview diagram to show the shape of this thing's orbit. Haven't really gotten a grip even on how 4 stars orbit around each other - is it two binary systems circling a common centre? Then where do you put a planet in... orbiting in a wide circle around the outside of the stars, figure-8ing between two pairs of stars, some elaborate knot weaving in and out around all 4?

      If anyone has a better handle on this than I do, a clear description would serve just as well as a diagram.

      RTFS:

      That binary is itself orbited by another binary pair much farther out.

      Granted, it doesn't talk about the planet. But my guess is that the planet is orbiting the central pair, like the outer pair.

    • there are two barycentres in the system, the planet orbiting both in a Lorentzian orbit (a semi-chaotic figure-8). If the stars were close enough together the planet would be orbiting a barycentre common to them all. Would possibly even have a semi-stable climatic cycle. As it is, it's likely that the planet has random seasonal conditions ranging from hot plasma to nitrogen snow.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The two central stars have an orbit of 20 days. The planet has an orbit of 137 days, meaning it is 3.5 times from the center of the central stars as they are from each other. Additionally, one of the center stars is about a quarter of the mass of the other, so the center of mass is closer to one than the other. Then the second pair of binaries is at a distance of about 1000 AU from the central stars. The planet's orbit looks like about 0.4 AU (from my calculation, the other distance, times and masses a

      • For reference to the 1000 AU orbit of the outer stars: Pluto has a max distance of about 50 AU, so the stars would probably not stand out more than Jupiter now on the night sky.
    • is it two binary systems circling a common centre?

      Yes.

      Then where do you put a planet in... orbiting in a wide circle around the outside of the stars, figure-8ing between two pairs of stars, some elaborate knot weaving in and out around all 4?

      There's a diagram of the inner binary system in the paper. It's near the end.

      Two stars orbit each other at a distance of about 0.17 AU. The planet is in a circular orbit around both of them at a distance of 0.64 AU.

      The other binary pair is about 1000 AU distant from the first pair. It's irrelevant to the planet's orbit.

  • ...why these data cannot simply be processed in such a way that regularly-occurring outliers are identified automatically? How much more accurate is visual identification of magnitude changes over an automated process?

    Plus, I think it would be more fun to simply give me some raw data to work with, and let me write my own algorithms for spotting possible transits, rather than inefficiently starting at a screen for hours at a time, clicking yes/no bubbles.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      In this case, the problem for the pipeline algorithm as that the transits do not occur quite periodically - because of the barycentric motion of the primary star (the only one where the S/N of the data allows transits to be detected), the planet transits the star early or late by several times the transit duration. With only ~7 transits seen in the data, this is a rather different task than finding periodic features, bringing in additional free parameters.

      It's not that the visual identification of the amoun

  • It would have been super cool if it was all symmetrical with the planet in the middle with 4 suns orbiting around it. Of course, that configuration isn't in any way stable.. bit of a Ringworld style problem over there.. More on Klemperer Rosettes for anyone who cares: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Klemperer_rosette [wikipedia.org]
  • So, is this planet in a cloverleaf orbit around all four stars?

    Yeah I know. Impossible, but still amusing to imagine.

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