Astronomers spot planet orbiting two stars instead of one

Astronomers spot planet orbiting two stars instead of one

In an announcement on September 22, astronomers said that they have spotted a planet orbiting two stars rather than one, as previously thought, with the help of the Hubble Space Telescope.

Astronomers are aware about the existence of many planets orbiting two, three or more stars. But it is for the first time that they have verified the detection of a so-called ‘circumbinary planet’ by noticing a natural phenomenon known as gravitational microlensing, or light bending caused by strong gravity surrounding objects in space. Astronomers have released a video demonstrating how they found the planet.

The two stars orbit same center of mass in binary-star systems. The moment one of the stars passes ahead of the other from Earth’s perspective, gravity from the closer star fluctuates and zooms in the light heading from the star present behind. Astronomers can research on this distorted light to detect signs relating to the star in the centre and any likely planets revolving the star system.

The exoplanet in the study dubbed OGLE-2007-BLG-349 is present 8,000 light-years from our planet toward the Milky Way’s center. In 2007, it was first detected during ground-based observations from worldwide telescopes. Initially, astronomers thought of the system to be a planet orbiting a star. Using the collected data, they came to know about the existence of a third object, but they didn’t succeed in identifying it then.

In a statement, the paper’s first author David Bennett of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said, “The ground-based observations suggested two possible scenarios for the three-body system: a Saturn-mass planet orbiting a close binary star pair or a Saturn-mass and an Earth-mass planet orbiting a single star”.

For better understanding, astronomers relied on the Hubble Space Telescope, as space telescopes capture better pictures of deep space in comparison to land-based telescopes.

"Imagine looking up and seeing more than one sun in the sky. Astronomers have done just that, announcing today (Sept. 22) that they have spotted a planet orbiting two stars instead of one, as previously thought, using the Hubble Space Telescope," according to a news report published by Space.

Several planets that revolve around two, three or more stars are known to exist. But this is the first time astronomers have confirmed such a discovery of a so-called "circumbinary planet" by observing a natural phenomenon called gravitational microlensing, or the bending of light caused by strong gravity around objects in space.

"The ground-based observations suggested two possible scenarios for the three-body system: a Saturn-mass planet orbiting a close binary star pair or a Saturn-mass and an Earth-mass planet orbiting a single star," David Bennett of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and the paper's first author, said in a statement.

According to a story published on the topic by Phys, "Astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, and a trick of nature, have confirmed the existence of a planet orbiting two stars in the system OGLE-2007-BLG-349, located 8,000 light-years away towards the center of our galaxy."

The Hubble observations represent the first time such a three-body system has been confirmed using the gravitational microlensing technique. Gravitational microlensing occurs when the gravity of a foreground star bends and amplifies the light of a background star that momentarily aligns with it. The particular character of the light magnification can reveal clues to the nature of the foreground star and any associated planets.

"The ground-based observations suggested two possible scenarios for the three-body system: a Saturn-mass planet orbiting a close binary star pair or a Saturn-mass and an Earth-mass planet orbiting a single star," explained David Bennett of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, the paper's first author.


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