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Astronomers confirm the existence of a planet with three suns

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New observations have confirmed the existence of the exoplanet KOI-5Ab, located in a triple star system.

The first evidence of it was received back in 2009, at the very beginning of the Kepler space observatory, but so far they have not been tested. For such additional observations, first of all, objects are selected that are most interesting or easiest to confirm. This process is long, so of the almost 48 thousand candidate exoplanets found by the Kepler telescope, about half are still unconfirmed. However, now the turn has come to KOI-5Ab.

To do this, David Ciardi and his colleagues used the new TESS space telescope, as well as several ground-based instruments, including Hawaiian Keck Observatory. The work made it possible to confirm the existence of an unusual exoplanet and reveal new interesting details about it. The authors reported their findings at an online meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS), briefly described in a press release distributed by NASA.

KOI-5 triple system diagram / © Caltech, R. Hurt, IPAC

TESS observed KOI-5Ab by the transit method, based on a weak change in the luminosity of the parent star during those periods when the planet passes against its background. And Keck – by weak fluctuations in the position of the star, which are caused by the rotation and attraction of the planet. According to the data obtained, KOI-5Ab is a cold gas giant, like our Neptune. It orbits one of the stars in a rather rare triple system, making a complete revolution in five days. The system is located 1,800 light-years away in the constellation Cygnus.

The star KOI-5A itself rotates in close conjunction with KOI-5B, with a frequency of 30 years, and their tandem bypasses the third star KOI-5C in 400 years. It was a surprise that the orbital plane of the planet does not coincide with the KOI-5B plane, deviating from it by about 50 °. It is believed that such systems should be formed from one cloud of gas and dust and maintain a single plane of rotation. Perhaps, this is due to the fact that the planet changed its orbit under the influence of the gravity of KOI-5B.

It should be said that triple systems themselves are not such a rarity: they include about 10 per cent of the stars in the Galaxy. Planets in such systems are also known, including our neighboring Alpha Centauri. 

However, they are much less common: apparently, unstable conditions in them are not very favorable for the appearance of planets. But, perhaps, the matter is simply in the difficulties of their detection: it is not for nothing that the confirmation of KOI-5Ab took place more than a decade after its discovery.

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