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UNLV astronomers make unprecedented discovery

KSNV – Las Vegas logo KSNV – Las Vegas 10/10/2021 Steve Wolford
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UNLV researchers say they’ve made a discovery 13-hundred light-years from Earth that could possibly be the first planet to orbit three stars.

GW-Ori was observed by the Atacama Large Millimeter Submillimeter Array or “ALMA” telescope. Photographs show what is believed to be three stars grouped together, with a large planet in its formation stages nearby.

Caption: KSNV

“So We know that there’s a gap there,” said Jeremy Smallwood, a recent astronomy Ph.D. graduate from UNLV and lead author of the analysis. “We can see it with the telescopes. So what we’re proposing is that there’s actually a planet that’s in that gap that’s carving the gap. And if that’s true, it’s actually it would be the first planet that’s orbiting three stars. so, that’s never been detected before.”

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Smallwood says there are approximately 20 known planets to be orbiting two (binary) stars. If the GW-Ori discovery is confirmed, it could change the way astronomers think about planet formation.

“If there’s a planet in orbit around three stars, it just means that planet formation is a lot more robust than we once thought,” said Smallwood. “You don’t really need special environments to form planets. You can form planets around one, two, three, maybe even four stars. So just means plant formation is not that special.”

Ultimately, scientists might someday confirm the existence of habitable planets like Tatooine, known to Star Wars fans as Luke Skywalker’s homeworld, which orbited two stars. “Maybe in the future, 10 million years, 100 million years from now, you can form Earth-like planets around that same system,” Smallwood said. “So, it’s kind of interesting to see if maybe you can form earth around three stars, and could you have lived on that planet.”

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